Lately, we’ve had an influx of beautiful, sunny, and warm weather around these parts—and I’m not complaining!
I see hints of green grass peeking through the dry, yellowing blades that linger from our fairly arid winter. The seed pollens of my wild arugula wafted from my veggie garden many years ago, and ever since they’ve made it their mission to keep popping up throughout my property like an uncontrollable suburban sprawl (just kidding, I love it). Now the arugula has begun to sprout, a sure sign that the season has started. I’m allowing my bulbs to come through now, trusting we won’t get a frost too heavy for them to take. The time change over the weekend is just the last signal that spring is right around the corner!
It’s been quite the whirlwind week. Thanks to a nifty leak from a hailstorm last summer, my house has been in shambles. It’s under a near constant state of restoration-construction. Daily life is restricted solely to the kitchen, office, and bedrooms, while the rest of the house remains enclosed in a literal plastic bubble. Much to my gratitude, the weather has cooperated in airing the fumes and dust particles from the house. And as we bundle up in blankets towards sundown to enjoy our meals on the back porch, we’ve been appreciating the warmer weather even more.
For some reason all the chaos and balmy weather got me hankering for a cold Thai peanut noodle salad. This is one of my comfort foods, and it’s been a favorite since childhood. Back then I used to snack on a similar salad that I purchased from a sweet, dainty Thai woman at our Saturday farmer’s market. It conjures fond memories of carefree days playing in the park with my friends while my mother tended my stepfather’s woodworking stall. That life is considerably different from the responsibilities of grown-up-ness, but at least I can make this refreshing, flavorful, simple salad during such a complicated, disordered time. It’s easy to prepare a big batch and snack on throughout the week. That’s no small thing considering my frazzled nerves and the fact that I don’t have full access to my own kitchen.
Thai cuisine is synonymous with bright, bold flavors and the beautiful symmetry of tart, spicy, salty, and sweet. This salad is no exception. Though I wouldn’t call the authentic Thai version of my childhood “unhealthy” by any means, I’ve amped up my own version with some substitutions to make it even more nutritious without sacrificing on flavor.
First, I subbed in brown rice noodles for the traditional white. My next step was to eliminate refined sugars in favor of a touch of honey and coconut aminos, a slightly sweet condiment, similar to soy sauce, made from coconut sap. My final tweak was to substantially increase the vegetable to noodle ratio. When I usually come across this salad, it consists mostly of noodles, with just a few vegetables thrown in. I prefer a half-and-half ratio or even more. In fact, since I don’t eat a whole lot of noodles in general, I’ll often skip them altogether and satisfy my craving with a heaping bowl of crunchy veggies tossed with the same flavorful dressing. Using zucchini or other vegetables for the noodles makes an excellent swap with an even more nutritious punch.
The dressing is another harmonious balance of flavors: tangy lime juice, a bite of heat from the hot peppers, briny fish sauce, and a mild sweetness from the coconut aminos.
You can serve this on its own or accompany it with shrimp or grilled meat (curried chicken skewers are a personal favorite). Feel free to tinker. Adjust the dressing to suit your taste. Add, subtract, or replace the veggies to accommodate what you have on-hand or enjoy the most. I often add shredded red cabbage, radish, and an assortment of bell peppers for color and flavor. Mint, Thai basil, or a combination of the two is also especially delicious. Most importantly, don’t skimp on the dressing as the noodles will soak it up, especially over time.
Chilled Thai Peanut Noodle Salad
Serves about 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
1 (8 oz.) package brown rice noodles, fettuccini, or vermicelli
Dressing, to taste (ingredients below)
2 carrots, shredded
2 green onions, minced
1 big handful cilantro, chopped
1 red pepper, sliced
2 cups snow or snap peas, sliced or left whole
1 cucumber, sliced
2 cups mung bean sprouts (you can sprout your own in about 5 days, if you like)
½ cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
For the dressing:
⅓ cup mild-flavored oil (untoasted sesame oil, walnut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, or peanut oil all work well)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon fish sauce (I recommend Red Boat Fish Sauce)
2 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon coconut aminos
Honey, to taste (optional if you like yours a bit sweeter)
1 big pinch crushed red pepper flakes or sriracha-style hot sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Prepare noodles according to package instructions. Rinse well under cold water until fully chilled.
- Combine dressing ingredients, tweaking them to suit your tastes.
- Toss together chilled noodles, veggies, peanuts, and dressing. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, if possible, for flavors to meld.
Image from Briana Goodall.