When I was young, pasta salad fell into two categories: A creamy concoction in which mayonnaise held together elbow macaroni, vegetables and ham; or a vinaigrette-style salad with tri-color fusilli tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.
That was pretty much it – for years.
As I grew up, I was exposed to so many variations of the noodle or pasta salad – cold and warm – that I began to realize that the only limitation on combinations was my life experience and imagination.
It was freeing.
I could use any kind of pasta from orzo to ramen to spaetzle. I could add feta, olives and sliced peppers to that orzo; sunflower seeds, scallions and shredded cabbage to the ramen; and toss that spaetzle with diced eggplant, zucchini and fresh basil.
After buying a lovely batch of summer tomatoes at the farmers market, I decided I wanted to find a pasta salad that would do them justice. I came across just the one while leafing through “Double Awesome Chinese Food: Irresistible and Totally Achievable Recipes From Our Chinese-American Kitchen” (Roost Books, 2019) by Andrew, Irene and Margaret Li.
The summer salad is a study in contrasts. It calls for roasting half of the tomatoes and half of the corn and leaving the rest fresh, resulting in sweet, just browned kernels and warm, soft tomato slices in some bites and fresh, bright tomatoes and corn in another.
Spirals of raw zucchini offer a slightly bitter snap, and chunks of avocado deliver creaminess.
The dressing is made with garlic and ginger for pungency and honey for sweetness. I added a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes for a little more bite.
The authors chose to make the salad with Japanese soba noodles, which are made with buckwheat flour and, often, a bit of whole wheat flour, too. They cook quickly with an earthy flavor, offering a sturdy foundation for the summer vegetables and lively dressing.
A few specialty ingredients in the dish, such as black vinegar and toasted sesame seed oil, add great depth of flavor, but if you have to sub in balsamic and a little more olive oil, still go for it.
The cookbook, written by siblings, is filled with recipes served family-style, so that is how I served this, even though it was just the two of us. It was too pretty not to put the big platter on the table so we could dig in.
Summer Noodle Salad with Ginger-Garlic Dressing
Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
A mix of roasted and fresh summer vegetables tossed with soba noodles gets a burst of flavor from a bright ginger-garlic dressing. The salad is perfect as a side for cookouts or a vegan main dish. One tip: If you’re using tomatoes that are not at their peak, roast them all.You can substitute frozen corn, just thaw it first.
Make Ahead: The salad dressing can be made up to 3 days ahead.
Storage Notes: The salad may be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.
Where to Buy: Black (Chinkiang) vinegar, soba noodles and toasted sesame seed oil can be found at international stores, well-stocked grocery stores and online.
Ingredients:For the dressing:2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce1½ tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice1 tablespoon honey1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil1 teaspoon Chinkiang black vinegar or balsamic vinegar1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely minced or grated2 cloves garlic, finely minced or gratedKosher salt¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakesFor the salad:1 pound small summer tomatoes, cut in half or quartered, or cut into eighths if large1 cup (5 ounces) fresh corn kernels1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil1 tablespoon toasted sesame oilKosher salt8 ounces (225 grams) soba noodles1 zucchini (about 7 ounces), spiralized or thinly sliced1 cup (about 1 ounce) arugula or other salad greens1 avocado, halved, pitted and cut into chunks1 scallion, thinly sliced1 tablespoon black or toasted sesame seedsSriracha, for serving (optional)Method:Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, soy sauce, lime or lemon juice, honey, sesame oil, vinegar, ginger, garlic, salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Whisk, and set aside, giving the ginger and garlic time to mellow.
Make the salad: On a large, rimmed baking sheet, add half the tomatoes and half the corn and toss with the olive and sesame oils. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the corn is slightly charred and the tomatoes have softened and begin to shrivel.
While the vegetables are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the soba noodles according to the package instructions, about 4 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold running water to stop the cooking. Transfer the noodles a large serving bowl along with the roasted tomatoes and corn, and add the remaining fresh tomatoes and corn, the zucchini, arugula, avocado and scallion.
Pour most of the dressing over the salad and toss, then taste and add more dressing as desired.
Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Serve family-style with sriracha, if using, on the side.
Nutrition: (based on 6 servings) Calories: 334; Total Fat: 17 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 552 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 7 g; Protein: 9 g.
Source: Adapted from “Double Awesome Chinese Food” by Andrew, Irene and Margaret Li. (Roost Books, 2019.)