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Eric Akis: Cool off with a cold Asian-style noodle salad

Noodles are tossed with sesame oil and topped with a mix of vegetables and peanuts and served with a sweet and sour Thai sweet chili dressing.

On a cold winter day, a generous bowl of brothy, steaming hot, Asian-style noodles is a welcoming thing to slurp up. On a warm summer day, though, you’ll want to switch things up, cool things down, and enjoy those noodles in salad form.

For this dish, thin, dried, Asian-style rice noodles were boiled a short while until just tender, drained, cooled in cold water, and drained again. The noodles were then tossed with some sesame oil, preventing them from sticking together, and infusing them with the taste of the oil.

The noodles were then divided between two, shallow serving bowls and topped as they might be in a Vietnamese restaurant, with such things as a mix of vegetables, cilantro and peanuts. At this point, in a Vietnamese restaurant, the noodles would also likely be topped with something hot, such as grilled meat like pork.

I didn’t do that, because I wanted everything in this summer salad to be cold. So, for a protein, I decided to top my vegetable rice noodle salad bowls with cold cubes of smoked tofu. They added a pleasingly smoky taste, without any grilling over a hot fire required.

You’ll find smoked tofu, including flavoured types such as the sriracha-flavoured smoked tofu I used, for sale at grocery stores that offer a wide selection of tofu products. If you don’t want to use smoked tofu, the Eric’s options part of the recipe offers suggestions on other types of protein you could use on the noodle salads, such shelled edamame or cooked, chilled, peeled prawns.

To make the dressing for the salads, I combined Thai sweet chili sauce, which is sold at most grocery stores, with rice vinegar, vegetable oil, ginger, soy sauce and Dijon mustard. This sweet and sour, mildly spicy-tasting dressing was then drizzled on the noodle salads at the dinner table, spiking them a world of flavour.

You can make the vegetable rice noodle salad bowls and the dressing in advance and keep them refrigerated until ready to serve. See recipe method for details on that.

Vegetable Rice Noodle Salad Bowls

Cold, sesame oiled tossed noodles, set in shallow bowls, colourfully topped with a mix of vegetables and peanuts and served with a sweet and sour Thai sweet chili dressing.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: one minute

Makes: two servings

For the salad dressing

1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce

1 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil

1 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp minced fresh ginger

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Combine ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate dressing until needed. It can be made many hours in advance. Mix the dressing again, just before using it.

For the salad

200 to 250 grams thin rice noodles (see Note 1)

1 1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 cup shredded cabbage or head or romaine lettuce

1/3 cup English cucumber, cut into matchstick-sized pieces

1/3 cup red bell pepper, cut into matchstick-sized pieces

1/3 cup grated carrot

90 grams smoked tofu, plain or flavoured, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see Note 2)

1 green onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped

• small cilantro sprigs or Thai basil leaves, to taste

4 lime slices, for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook 1 minute, or until just tender. Drain noodles well, cool in cold water, and then drain well again. Set noodles in a mixing bowl, add the sesame oil, and then toss to coat the noodles with it.

Divide the noodles between two large, shallow, serving bowls. Now divide and artfully arrange, in separate mounds, the cabbage (or lettuce), cucumber, bell pepper, carrot, tofu, green onion, peanuts and cilantro (or Thai basil) on top of the noodles. You could make the salads to this point an hour or so before serving them. Cover and refrigerate them until needed.

Serve each noodle salad with a small bowl of the salad dressing, for spooning and drizzling on the salad at the table.

Note 1: Dried, thin, Asian-style rice noodles, also called rice stick, bánh pho or vermicelli, are sold in the Asian foods aisle of grocery stores. Package sizes can vary. If your package of them has more than you need here, remove what you need for this recipe, and save the rest for another time.

Note 2: B.C.’s Sunrise Soya Foods made the smoked tofu I used in the recipe. I used their mildly spicy, sriracha-flavoured smoked tofu that came in a 180-gram package. You’ll only need half of it for this recipe. Keep the rest for another use, such as cutting and using it in a stir-fry. Their plain, smoked tofu will also work in this recipe. Smoked tofu is sold at grocery stores that offer a wide range of tofu products.

Eric’s options: If you can’t find or don’t wish to use smoked tofu, use cubes of regular, medium-firm tofu instead. Or, top the noodles with another type of protein, such as cooked, peeled, chilled prawns, shreds of cold cooked pork or chicken, or shelled, frozen (thawed) edamame (green soybeans), which are sold at many supermarkets.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.