There’s something so right about digging into a cold noodle salad in the summer. They’re easy to make for an office lunch or a picnic, elegant enough for company, and nothing beats the combination of toothy noodles, crunchy veg, and a zippy dressing that brings everything together. Best of all, you don’t need a recipe to throw one together when the mood strikes (which, for us, is often). Digital food editor Dawn Perry and Test Kitchen contributor Jessie Damuck explain how it’s done.
Ramen, soba, vermicelli, udon—in the wide world of noodles, your options can (and should!) feel endless. Whether you prefer chewier ramen or more delicate rice noodles, rinsing them thoroughly in cold water after cooking is key to preventing a mess of clumpy, overcooked strands. After you’ve cooked the noodles, strain them into a colander, rinse thoroughly under cold water, then shake off as much excess water as possible and blot dry with paper towels. Toss with a tiny bit of a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed before storing to prevent clumping. You can make your noodles the night before, store in an airtight container in the fridge, and they’ll be good to go the next day.
Bean Thread Noodles with Pickled Vegetables Photo: Christina Holmes
Crunchy, bite-sized pieces of raw vegetables are the perfect complement to soft, chewy noodles. We like any mix of cucumber, carrots, snap peas, thinly sliced cabbage, and mung bean sprouts—but anything fresh, crunchy, and chopped small enough to pick up with chopsticks will work. Keep most of your veg raw, and throw in some crispy sautéed mixed mushrooms if you’d like.
Fluffy Omelet. Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott
Cold noodle salads are the perfect vehicle for any meat you have leftover from dinner, from thinly sliced steak to shrimp to shredded leftover rotisserie chicken. Vegetarian options like roasted or raw pressed tofu or eggs—either hard-boiled or cooked into fluffy, omelet-style strips—are lovely, too. Again, the key is to keep the pieces on the smaller side.
Peanut Dressing. Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott
Cold foods need to be seasoned more aggressively to taste good, Perry says. Most Asian noodles are cooked in unsalted water, so they can run on the blander side to start. That means salt is your friend here, whether from soy sauce, fish sauce, or regular old kosher salt. Perry also likes to add a touch of sweetness with honey, agave, or brown sugar. An acidic ingredient like fresh lime juice or unseasoned rice vinegar will liven everything up. Finally, you can add some sliced chile to your dressing for heat, if you’d like.
For creamier dressings with a peanut butter or tahini base, use water (yes, water!) to thin it down to the consistency of cream—that way, everything will get evenly coated without getting stiff and clumpy. Remember: there’s no such thing as a wrong move when it comes to noodle salad dressings—if anything, this is a great time to experiment with different ratios to figure out which flavors you like. “This doesn’t need to be the most balanced dressing,” Perry says. “You want it to be punchy.” Set it aside for now—you’ll toss your sauce with the noodles right before you’re ready to serve.
Sesame Noodles with Chili Oil and Scallions. Photo: Christina Holmes
We’ve said it before: Treat fresh herbs like salad greens and use them whole in everything—like noodle salads. Use any mix of basil, mint, cilantro, chopped chives, and thinly sliced scallions (whites and greens) to liven up the whole dish and add another layer of big flavor. Toasted nuts and seeds like peanuts, cashews, and sesame seeds provide a little extra crunch to complement the raw veg. And just a smidge of an aggressively flavored finishing oil like toasted sesame or spicy chile will do wonders. If you want to get real fancy, sprinkle some thinly sliced radishes, fresh chiles, or crispy shallots to finish.
You can make or prep all of your noodle salad components in advance, but store the dressing separately from the salad ingredients, as the noodles and veg tend to get soggy as they sit in the sauce. Wait to toss all the individual components together just before you’re ready to serve. The noodles will be perfectly chewy, the veg crunchy, and those snazzy dressing and extras will bring everything together. Now admire your work and get ‘gramming, already!
Get slurping! Our favorite cold noodle recipes are straight ahead
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from Bon Appétit http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/how-to/article/how-to-make-cold-noodle-salad