Guys. Spring has arrived. Really, it has. I can’t even believe it but it’s true. It’s been a dreamy 72 degrees for days now, and the door to my balcony hasn’t been closed for at least a week for fear that I miss even one perfect Spring breeze (except at night, of course, no creepers allowed in my Brooklyn abode). I am in heaven and I’m soaking up every second of it because I know what’s right around the corner. I’m lookin’ at you, humidity.
It’s times like these where I look for recipes that mimic the weather — cool, comforting and refreshing. This is not the time for stews or casseroles or roasts. I don’t want to my kitchen to be stuffy and hot, and I don’t want to labor over a meal for hours. Simple and fresh is the name of the game.
It’s no surprise that I would tend toward Asian cuisine on days like these; it’s both comforting and fresh and usually leverages a few of my favorite food items, namely vinegar and chili. This Soba Noodle Salad is both a salad and a noodle dish; it is a delicious melting pot of flavors, and the addition of the quick-pickled cucumbers and a dash of chili oil give the heartiness of the noodles just the punch it needs. It’s great right out of the pan, but it’s just as good after a few hours in the fridge, a perfect make ahead meal. I love the addition of the chicken as a protein source, but you could easily make this vegetarian by either substituting tofu for the chicken and using the same preparation or adding additional vegetables (my picks would be asparagus, mushrooms, and/or snap peas).
Soba Noodle Salad with Caramelized Chicken & Quick-Pickle Cucumbers
(adapted from How Sweet It Is)
You will need:
½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces soba noodles
4 radishes thinly sliced
½ cup freshly torn cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
chili oil, to garnish
½ seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
First things first, let’s pickle us some cucumbers. If you’re thinking, pickles? In a noodle salad? Has she gone ’round the bend? Do not fret. These ‘pickles’ will be slightly sweet and very vinegar-y, but still very cucumber-y. They are a perfect pairing for the earthiness of the noodles and the spice of the chili oil. You’ll love ’em. And if you don’t, you can also just add sliced cucumber to the salad when you add the other veggies (I will judge you for this. But only slightly).
OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming. In a medium bowl, combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and stir to dissolve. Add the sliced cucumber and toss to combine. Set aside and let ’em marinate, at least 15 minutes and up to 6 hours.
Next, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and season thoroughly with the salt, pepper, and brown sugar. The idea is to get a good crust on the chicken when you cook it, so don’t be afraid to really work the spices and sugar into the chicken…it’s worth the good hand scrubbing you’ll need afterwards from roughing up some raw chicken.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a good swirl of olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 7 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Now, grab the soba noodles and cook them according to the package directions. When fully cooked, drain and rinse them with cold water. Add them to a large bowl (this can be the bowl you serve them in) and toss with the vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar and sesame oil. Add in the chicken, radishes and cilantro and toss well. Lastly, drain and add the quick-pickle cucumbers and toss to incorporate. Drizzle with chili oil (a little goes a long way here, so don’t go crazy) and serve.
Fresh, crunchy, spicy — all flavors that perfectly compliment this glorious time of year — and yet, still comforting and homey. Sure to be a warm-weather staple!