July is National Picnic Month, a time when summer travel — a day trip to another town or a cross-country adventure — often involves eating in transit. Sometimes the food choices are unhealthy or expensive; other times there aren’t many options at all. When you pack your own food, you can eat whenever and wherever the spirit, or hunger, motivates you. This can be healthier on you and on your wallet.
One of my favorite go-to items for travel food is soba noodles. They can be made in advance and divided into portable containers, eaten at room temperature or chilled. Japanese soba noodles are made with buckwheat and have a slightly nutty flavor. I appreciate that they don’t stick together like other pastas are wont to do. In researching some recipes to share, I had to smile when the first two books I grabbed were titled, “Picnics” and “Noodles” so I guess it was destined to harmonize.
Cold Soba Noodles and Snap Peas with Sesame Dressing
This salad is classic soba and could easily accommodate the addition of sliced hard-boiled eggs and/or cucumber. Recipe from “Picnics” by Sara Deseran; makes 4 servings.
12 ounces soba noodles
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 2-inch matchsticks
1/4 pound snap peas, trimmed and destringed
1 carrot, cut into 2-inch matchsticks
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Add soba noodles to a large pot of boiling water. Return to boil; add 1 cup cold water. Bring to boil again; add 1 cup cold water again. Cook until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. While noodles are cooking, make dressing:
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl; set aside. When noodles have drained, place them in a large bowl with the bell pepper, snap peas and carrot. Add dressing and toss gently. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chill until needed.
Salmon and Soba Noodle Salad
The addition of protein makes a slightly more substantial — and colorful — salad. Recipe adapted from “Noodles” by Vicki Liley; makes 4 servings.
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons peeled and freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons mirin
Combine ingredients in a jar with a screw top lid; shake well and set aside.
6-1/2 ounces soba noodles
1 English (hothouse) cucumber
8 ounces smoked salmon
6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges for serving
Cook noodles as directed on package; drain and allow to cool. While noodles are cooking, use a vegetable peeler to slice cucumber lengthwise into strips. Cut smoked salmon into small strips. In a bowl, combine noodles, cucumber, salmon and cilantro leaves. Add dressing and toss gently. Chill, along with lime wedges, until needed.
Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes and Cabbage
You can adjust the hot pepper paste as needed in this hearty vegetarian dish. Recipe from Gourmet magazine; makes 4 servings.
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons Korean hot pepper paste (“gochujang”)
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
Stir together all sauce ingredients until brown sugar dissolves; set aside.
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1/4c up vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
10 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and thinly sliced
1-1/4 pounds Napa cabbage, thinly sliced (8 cups)
6 scallions, thinly sliced
8 to 9 ounces soba noodles
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet if not already toasted; transfer to a small bowl. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Saute’ ginger and garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and saute’, stirring, under tender and starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add cabbage and most of scallions (save a tablespoon for garnish) and cook, stirring, until cabbage is crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Add sauce; simmer 2 minutes. While cabbage is cooking, cook noodles and edamame together in a pot of boiling water until noodles are just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain; rinse under cool water. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with sesame seeds and vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with reserved scallions and chill until ready to use.