By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsOne of the things I realized after coming to the United States is that many Americans love noodles. However, most of their favorite dishes are served without soup. This probably explains why hot soba or udon noodle dishes with broth are still a rare sight, even though Japanese restaurants are becoming popular.
Even so, I was surprised when I saw noodles in a salad. Many customizable salad restaurants have opened in Philadelphia and New York recently, and often attract large crowds of students and office workers at lunchtime. When I saw the menu for the first time, I thought the prices were very high. I didn’t want to pay ¥1,500 just for a salad! At the time, I thought of salad as an appetizer that couldn’t fill me up like a meal in Japan, where a set meal with a main dish, side dish, rice and soup costs almost the same price.
But the salad I ordered was the most delicious I had ever eaten. It was more than just a salad, as I could add my favorite greens, nuts, noodles, varieties of rice, grains such as quinoa, and protein options such as grilled meat, grilled tofu, falafel, hummus or eggs. It was practically a feast.
In Japan, people think of salad as only consisting of raw vegetables, but in the United States, there are “warm salads” that include roasted vegetables such as sweet potato or butternut squash.
After this experience, I fell in love with salads. I often add udon noodles or other grain-based ingredients, along with copious amounts of vegetables, protein foods such as nuts or whatever else I have on hand. If you have leftover rotisserie chicken or vegetables in your fridge, you ought to try making this dish.
For this recipe, I make greater use of raw vegetables suited for Japan’s hot, humid summers. I might also add roasted pumpkin, sweet potatoes or grapes in autumn. I often enjoy this salad with a creamy sauce, vinaigrette, or an Asian-inspired topping that uses sesame or soy sauce. If you prefer a peanut flavor, you can use peanut butter instead of tahini.
Should you prepare the salad in advance, I recommend preparing everything the day before, and then mixing the udon with the dressing and vegetables just before mealtime. Otherwise, your salad will be soggy.
I hope this noodle salad brightens your day as you enjoy the summer!
Mari’s recipe for udon salad
Ingredients (serves 4):
3 packs (600 grams) frozen udon noodles
2 handfuls salad leaves
250 grams thinly sliced beef
1 cucumber, julienned
⅓ carrot, julienned
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 tbsp tahini paste or white sesame paste
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1½ tbsp honey or maple syrup
2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp ground garlic
1. Cut the thinly sliced beef into strips. Season the meat with salt and pepper before pan-frying with oil.
2. Place udon noodles in hot water and boil according to package instructions. Rinse the udon in cold water, then drain.
3. Thoroughly mix the ingredients for the dressing. Place the boiled udon, carrots and cucumber into a bowl before adding half the dressing and tossing the mixture.
4. Place salad leaves and udon mixed with vegetables onto a serving plate. Add the remaining dressing as desired.
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