One thing I miss about Australia is easy access to fresh, aromatic and cheap Southeast Asian food. I have cravings for a steaming bowl of rare beef Pho topped with fragrant Vietnamese mint, a squeeze of lemon and a squirt of chilli sauce that’s so hot it makes my nose run. Or a big mound of Pad Thai noodles piled with crushed peanuts, spring onions, fresh bean sprouts and herbs.
Although I miss my local Thai take-away, you will not find me complaining about the plethora of fantastic and cheap Mexican restaurants nearby in Brooklyn (that deliver!). I have happily swapped Southeast Asia for Mexico when in need of a I-can’t-be-bothered-cooking Thursday night meal. But this week I wanted a simple taste of Asia. And I had a picnic to cater, so a noodle salad was made.
Noodle salads are great picnic food. You can make them the night before and assemble the finishing touches at the picnic table the next day. This ones uses peanut butter and soy sauce as a flavour base, two items you probably already have in your pantry. When ground into peanut butter, peanuts take on a sweet, salty flavour with a hint of bitterness which makes a lovely, rich accompaniment to shellfish. I also made a little vegetable salad with raw carrot and zucchini, which provided a crisp, bright relief to the meal.
Do you have a mandolin? I recently got over my fear of slicing my fingers right off while using one and added a mandolin to my kitchen. My vegetables now look beautiful, not the hacked up, chunky, irregular-sized slices I had been serving in Asian dishes before. However this is more a reflection of my knife skills than the need for a mandolin, so you don’t need one to make this recipe, it just makes it faster.
A trick that doesn’t require a gadget is one that allows you to peel ginger without taking half the ginger away with the skin, like you do when you use a knife. Grab a spoon and scrape the skin away with the top or side of the spoon. It leaves the ginger lovely and clean, it’s quick and results in no wastage.
Many Asian dressings call for rice wine vinegar. It is made from fermented rice and is sweeter and milder than western vinegars. It can be hard to find in U.S supermarkets. No problem: you can substitute apple cider vinegar with a pinch of sugar, or use white wine vinegar by itself, or diluted with a bit of water if you prefer.
If you’re making the Peanut Noodle Salad for a picnic, pack the cucumber, spring onions and prawns in a separate container and pile on top of the noodles when you’re ready to eat. For the Carrot And Zucchini salad, take the dressing in a small jar and drizzle over the top as your fellow picnickers are about to dig in. This dish is also a lovely summer evening meal when cooking noodles is about as much effort as you can muster.
Peanut Noodle Salad
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 lime, juiced
For the salad
- Egg noodles or pasta, enough for 4
- 1 large cucumber or 2 small ones
- 3 spring onions (scallions)
- 8-12 cooked and peeled prawns (shrimp)
Mix dressing ingredients together. If the dressing is too thick to easily stir through noodles, thin with more lime juice or hot water.
Cook 4 serves of egg noodles or pasta according to package directions. Stir through the peanut dressing.
Slice cucumber finely into strips, chop up the spring onions and stir both through the noodles.
To serve, divide noodle mixture into four bowls and place a few prawns on top of each.
Carrot and Zucchini Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- A hint of sesame oil
For the salad
- 2 large carrots
- 1 large zucchini
- Black sesame seeds, lightly toasted (or not, if you can’t be bothered)
Mix dressing ingredients together. Slice carrots and zucchini into fine strips and dress. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the salad.