Written by Rebecca Peters-Golden
One of the nicest things about summer is that it stays light late enough for me to finish work, prepare a leisurely dinner, and enjoy eating outside as the sun sets—that is, when it’s finally cool enough to survive outside without melting. By now, it’s probably clear that I’m a complete and total heat wimp. It’s real! I have no air conditioning in my kitchen, so it’s hot in there even before I turn on the oven or heat up pots and pans to cook.
It used to be that I’d blast a fan and suffer through preparing the same kinds of dishes I eat in the winter: pastas and chicken and curries and stew. This summer, though, I just couldn’t take it anymore. In fact, the very idea of sweating while I roasted vegetables or baked chicken sent me scrambling to order takeout. But that wasn’t sustainable for very long, so I knew I needed some kind of plan. I couldn’t keep cooking the same way I do when it’s cool out, but I couldn’t go all summer without cooking, either.
In Clark Park, just a few blocks from my apartment in West Philly, there’s a farmer’s market every Saturday, where it’s easy to get affordable seasonal vegetables, fresh herbs, and locally raised meats. So, instead of falling into the takeout downward spiral or eating nothing but cheese and crackers all summer, I decided to cut the heat by focusing on recipes using the many summer veggies that are both delicious when eaten raw and available at the farmer’s market. This way, I’m supporting local farmers, eating fresh produce, and saving money on takeout, all while not roasting to death in my kitchen and heating up my whole apartment just by turning on the oven.
They key to cooking with raw veggies is to make sure your flavors are intense. You can do this by adding spice to chopped salads, vinegar to gazpacho, and keeping fresh pestos (like garlic scape pesto or fennel pesto) on hand that will brighten up any dish. Fresh herbs also turn simple vegetable preparations or salads into summery standouts.
My absolute favorite summer meal combines all these things: fresh local vegetables, a bold, garlicky sauce, and tons of fresh herbs. It’s a sesame soba bowl that’s light and cool enough for summer prep but also filling enough to eat any time. This noodle bowl is similar to Vietnamese bún, a dish of rice noodles, veggies, fresh herbs, and grilled meat. What I love so much about recipes like these are their contrasts—they combine warm and cold, cooked and raw, and soft and crunchy in one harmonious dish.
Soba noodles are the only component of this meal that gets cooked (and only for a few minutes, so don’t worry about the heat). Unlike many Asian-inspired noodle recipes, where the strands are rinsed after cooking to remove excess starch, these are left unrinsed to soak up the savory sesame-teriyaki sauce and impart flavor to the crisp veggies when the dish is mixed together. Traditional buckwheat soba noodles are hearty and filling, but feel free to play around with other noodle varieties like those made with black rice for a dramatic presentation, or chewy brown rice and wakame for a surprising but satisfying texture.
Need more variation? Take a few cues from the methods used in my shaved Brussels sprout salad (and use that mandoline or slicer to your advantage here as well). You can add other crunchy veggies like daikon or red radishes, raw or sautéed greens, and, if you’re less of a heat wimp than me (or, ah, have air conditioning in your kitchen), baked, grilled, or pan-fried salmon or chicken are great additions atop this bowl.
Summer Soba Noodle Bowl
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Makes 2 servings
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium teriyaki sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 bundle soba noodles
- 2 small carrots
- 1 small seedless cucumber
- 3 scallions
- 1 handful fresh mint leaves
- 1 handful fresh basil leaves
- 1 handful fresh parsley leaves
Whisk the fish sauce, vinegar, teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes together in a large bowl.
Fill a medium (2-quart) saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook just until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain and toss the noodles with the sauce.
Let the noodles soak up the sauce while you slice the carrots and cucumber into thin matchsticks (or use a julienne slicer, slice the scallions, and roughly chop the herbs.
Stir the vegetables and herbs into the noodles. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a refreshing next-day cold noodle salad.