Thursday, July 19, 2012

Recipe: Asian Noodle & Veggie Salad with Soy Vinaigrette

Back in the day when I used to work at a regular 9-5 jobs in offices filled with cubes of modular furniture, lunchtime was a big deal. It marked that special moment when you can say your workday is almost half done; it gave folks a chance to escape the stale, recycled office air and catch some sun; and, of course, it was a chance to go fill one's tum.

Here in Sacramento, one of the 9-5ers' favorite haunts is a popular deli chain called La Bou. Specializing in tasty baked goods, sandwiches and fresh salads, it offers standard California lunchtime fare with subtle Asian twists and is definitely an area staple. There were many days in my past when I'd stop by to enjoy one of their breakfast sandwiches, or their ever-so-tasty Chinese chicken salad. But even when I did have enough money to spend on dining out, I always felt there was one problem with the place: the price of the food. I never have felt like the items offered should be done at such high prices, so after awhile, La Bou became more of an once-in-a-blue-moon treat than a daily ritual.

Except for the croissants and other baked goods outside my pastry-making expertise, there isn't much on their menu that I can't recreate at home, so every once in awhile when I have a craving, I'll throw something together that's La Bou-esque and call it a day (not that hard to do with simple paninis, etc.). But there's one particular salad I've been meaning to try for a while, and with another weekend of soaring temperatures looming, I figured now was the right time to give it a go.

There's not much to it, really, and that's why I like it. Just lots of chewy noodles filled with tangy soy vinaigrette flavor and plenty of crisp, colorful veggies. You can use any Asian-style noodle you like, from lo mein (which is what I used) to good ol' soba noodles (udon noodles are awesome but due to their larger size, may require more marinade, so I'd try to stay away from these until more tweaking is done). Type of veggies used is also totally up to you, but the more colorful & crispy, the better. The usual assortment is made up of peppers, broccoli and bean sprouts, but this would also be awesome with edamame, carrots, mushrooms, and a whole slew of other veggies. The sky's the limit!

The beauty of this recipe is that it's ridiculously easy to prepare and yields so much, it lends itself beautifully as a leftovers-for-lunch-or-dinner generator. For around $6 for the whole recipe (as written; the price will obviously go up the more veggies you use), you can make enough of this salad to make a nice lunch or dinner for two, and still have more than enough for lunch the next day (again for two). Noodles are just awesome like that, which is why having them and other bare bones staples on hand is great for extremely lean times.

Compare that to the $5 you'll spend for a small lunch serving alone when you're actually at a deli that serves stuff like this, and you can see why it's so much more cost effective (and tasty) to make your own at home and brown bag it to work.

Feel like your plate's a little naked sans protein? No problem? This salad is perfect for pairing with your favorite proteins, from chicken or fish, to tofu or seitan. Add one of these to your salad and voila! Instant balanced meal. Have fun with this one, folks!


Asian Noodle & Veggie Salad with Soy Vinaigrette (makes 4 servings; average cost per serving: $1.50)

If fresh veggies like broccoli florets are a little too crispy or hard on your teeth, feel free to give them a little blanch first. Bring 4-6 cups of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the broccoli and let it cook for 45-60 seconds, until it turns bright green and is still crunchy & firm, but yields easily to a fork's tines. Immediately transfer the broccoli to a bowl of water with ice (to stop the cooking process). Drain and set aside to use in the salad. Done! : )


Ingredients
1/3 c canola oil
1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
1/2 c rice vinegar
1 T brown sugar
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t granulated garlic
1 10 oz package Asian style noodles (lo mein, chow mein, soba, etc.)
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1" strips
1 c broccoli florets
1 c bean sprouts
1/2 c chopped cilantro
1/2 c chopped scallions
3/4 c chopped peanuts or cashews (optional)


Directions
1. Prepare the dressing by combining the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and whisking together vigorously until smooth. Cover and set aside.
2. Cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold running water until the noodles are at room temperature or cool. Drain them very well a second time and place in a bowl. Pour about 2/3 of the dressing over the noodles and toss together until completely coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3. Remove the noodles from the fridge and add the broccoli, pepper strips, bean sprouts and any other veggies you may be using. Add the rest of the dressing and toss everything together until well-coated.
4. Serve generous portions of salad in bowls or on salad plates. Top with chopped scallions & cilantro, add a healthy sprinkle of chopped nuts, and enjoy!

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