Spicy Cold Noodle Salad with Charred and Raw Veg

There isn’t much of a backstory to this one, aside from I saw a photo on Instagram (maybe through food52?) of a ramen noodle salad, cold, liberally doused in chili oil, and I immediately ran to my pantry to recreate it. I had a small bottle of chipotle oil in there, given to me by a friend not that long ago, or so I thought, until I unscrewed the top, the smell of rancid oil hit me, and I realized it had been sitting in there for at least five years… maybe longer…

It happens. Then I remembered the bottle of yuzu hot sauce* I’d bought from Trader Joe’s with no clear idea in mind of what to do with it, and suddenly, delightfully, that little bottle had a decided purpose.

This “salad,” if you want to call it that, is a study in contrasts: hot from spice, cold from chilling out for an hour or so in the fridge before you serve it. Soft slurpable noodles against crunchy veg, some of which is charred aggressively in a skillet, and some of which is thinly julienned and added raw at the last minute. And if you sprinkle the optional sesame seeds on top, you have yet another textural contrast for your teeth to play with. It’s vegan, it’s adaptable, it comes together in about half an hour (depending on your speed working with a knife), and best of all, it’s supposed to be served cold (or maybe cool room temperature), which means the part that involves heating up your kitchen happens early in the day. That leaves you free to pull it out at dinner time, add a few final components, and plop it on the table without adding to whatever temperatures your part of the world is currently serving up for late summer.  

* You certainly don’t have to use this particular product in this salad. Any vinegar-based hot sauce will probably do the job nicely, though you might experiment in changing up the other dressing ingredients depending on what flavors yours brings to the party. Yuzu is mainly cultivated in Japan, Korea, and China, so I went with an Asian flavor profile, adding sesame oil and a few squirts of fish sauce. If you use Tabasco instead, for example, you might want lime juice and a more neutrally flavored oil, and maybe to replace the sesame seed topper with some torn cilantro instead. But you do you! And if you come up with a combination you particularly like, let me know in the comments so I can try it too, because this salad will definitely be on regular rotation during the warm months around here (which, since it’s Southern California in the 21st century, means most of them…).

Spicy Cold Noodle Salad with Charred and Raw Veg

Serves 2 gluttonously or 3 more moderately

30-40 minutes, plus at least an hour of inactive chilling time

2 packages ramen noodles (mine were each 3 ounce packs for a total of 6 ounces raw noodles)

2 TB salt

4-5 TB neutral tasting oil, such as vegetable or peanut, divided

2-3 TB yuzu hot sauce, or other vinegar-based hot sauce of your choosing

To taste: fish sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, sesame oil, or other seasoning of your choosing

6 ounces green beans, stem ends removed

(you could also use pencil-thin asparagus, broccolini, and/or green onions in place of or in addition to the green beans)

4 ounces kale, julienned into thin ribbons or torn into bite-sized pieces

1 large Persian cucumber or 1 small conventional cucumber with large seeds removed, cut into thin planks and then julienned into long ribbons, as in the photo above

2 ounces green, red, or savoy or napa cabbage (the frilly edges would be pretty), thinly julienned

Optional: 1-2 TB black sesame seeds, to garnish

  • Fill a 12-inch or other large skillet about ¾ full of water, add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the ramen noodles, discarding any included seasoning packets, and cook as directed. Drain well, move to a large bowl, and immediately toss with 3-4 TB of the neutral oil and the 2-3 TB hot sauce. Be sure the oil is well integrated – otherwise the noodles will congeal into unappealing clumps as they cool.
  • If desired, add other flavorings to your taste such as fish sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar or lime, etc.
  • Place the same pan, now empty, that you used to cook the noodles back over high heat and add an additional 1 teaspoon of the neutral oil, plus 1 teaspoon sesame oil, if you like that flavor. Add the green beans and step back, as the oil might spit a little bit. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the green beans have dark brown, blistered spots but retain some crunch. On my very hot burner, this took 4-5 minutes. The key here is to char, not fry, the beans, so we want minimal fat in the pan. Add the cooked beans to the bowl with the noodles.
  • Return the pan to the heat, add another 1 teaspoon of oil (plus 1 teaspoon of sesame oil if desired) if it looks dry, and add the kale. Again cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale has softened and many of the leaves have brown, toasted spots. This took me about 2 minutes. Add the charred kale to the bowl of noodles and green beans.
  • Toss the noodles and vegetables well and taste for seasoning. Add more hot sauce or other flavorings as desired. Cover and refrigerate until you are almost ready to serve – a minimum of 1 hour, but longer will allow more time for the flavors to mingle.
  • 5-10 minutes before you are ready to serve, remove the salad from the refrigerator and add the final components: the cucumbers, cut first into thin planks (as opposed to round slices), then into long, thin ribbons, and the cabbage, sliced in a thin julienne as you would for coleslaw. Toss well, taste for seasoning, and if desired, sprinkle the black sesame seeds over the top and serve.  

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