You do not live under a rock, so perhaps you have heard of this lady called The Pioneer Woman. If, however, you are somehow reading this internet page from under your rock, I admire the power of your wireless network and would like to know who your provider is.
While I enjoy and appreciate her site, I don't find too many of her recipes that entice me enough to make them. I'm ... not sure why that is. I have nothing against butter. They generally look pretty delicious in their way. I guess ... I got nothing. For whatever reason, I am just not enticed to make them. However, a few years back she posted a recipe that immediately caught my eye and I just had to make it. It's been part of my recipe rotation ever since.
It's easy, it's pretty, it's full of veggies. It is easily modified and can be as light or as heavy as you'd like it to be. In short, it's exactly my kind of recipe.
Also, it includes -- and this is the part of our program where I tell you something polarizing and dramatic and then you have to decide if we're still friends or not -- well, it includes heaps of cilantro.
FACT: Cilantro is the most political/polarizing of all the herbs. You love it or you hate it. No one is in the middle. IT'S SCIENCE. (It's not science.)
Also, and this is actually true according to things I've heard and my recent brief internet sleuthing, cilantro is the most popular (most widely consumed) herb in the world. Do you find that shocking? I find it shocking. How can it be both so hated AND so loved and widely used? (I think that statement also applies to McDonalds, Budweiser, and Walmart.) It's not just that it has a strong taste though: It's also really hard to grow.
But back to the salad.
I've made it a zillion different ways, and so I have some tips for you.
- Look at the recipe, and get some inspiration from the veggies used. Use it as a suggested list of ingredients and use as many or as few as you like. I love the array of tastes, colors, and textures they provide but the recipe is easily adaptable and I've often made it with leftover veggies I had on hand, or forgotten one of the ingredients at the store. Also, as much as I adore bean sprouts, some kind of terrible magic happens where as soon as I purchase them they go bad. So I've stopped trying to use them.
- I made this for a long time using linguine noodles, according to the recipe. However, earlier this week I tried it with Pad Thai Rice Noodles and it was like the missing piece of the puzzle finally came into place. They're a much better fit with the asian flavor profile of the salad, and the texture just marries with it all so nicely. It felt like I was eating a lighter, healthier version of Pad Thai (a feeling which was probably also owed to the wedge of lime and dusting of peanuts). Bonus: Rice Noodles are gluten free.
- As you might suspect from the sheer volume of ingredients, this tends to make a giant pile of food. It's great for parties, especially if you put everything out separately and let people make their own plate. Keep the veggie mix in one bowl, noodles in another, and serve smaller dishes with cilantro (it is polarizing after all!), wedges of lime, various chopped, toasted nuts, or protein (more on that in a minute). Set out a mini pitcher or gravy boat of dressing and let guests have at it. It makes for a beautiful, tasty spread and everyone will get what they want. (Unless what they want is to not be eating asian noodle salad at your house.)
- Since this tends to make a lot, another fun variation is to make a sort of asian slaw out of the leftover veggies. Just mix the veggies with the dressing (to taste), serve alongside skirt steak and sweet potatoes mashed with coconut milk for a delicious, colorful dinner.
- Protein. So far this salad is vegan. As a meat eater, I can vouch for the fact that it is still 100% delicious. I can also vouch for the fact that it's delicious with some freshly grilled slices of marinated chicken. As I said, you've got options.
Nuts: Chop and toast almonds, cashews, or peanuts. Throw on some toasted sesame seeds.
Meat & such: Tofu is great on it as well. Try it with shrimp, salmon, chicken, or flank steak. Use your favorite asian marinade, or make extra dressing and use that to marinate it.
Why not get crazy and pick a meat (or tofu) AND a nut? You are wild. Nothing can stop you.
- When you make the dressing, make it to taste. Follow the recipe but don't be afraid to keep adjusting if it doesn't taste right. It should be balanced and bold. Sometimes you get super juicy limes, sometimes you don't. Sometimes your ginger is really strong and flavorful, sometimes it's not. You get the idea. If it's too bland, add more lime ('When in doubt, always add more lime' should be my life's motto.) If it's too sesame-y, add a bit more soy, lime, and sesame oil. You get the idea.
- I recommend mixing the cilantro directly into the veggies and noodles. Don't put it in dressing. It's not really necessary, and will cause the dressing to spoil much more quickly.
- Keep extra dressing in the fridge for 3-4 days. I keep mine in a mason jar. Store the veggies separate from the noodles, and if you can, keep the veggies separate from each other. They spoil at different rates. No need to ruin the whole batch because your peppers got slimey more quickly than your cabbage.
- Serve it with a wedge of lime on the side and a sprinkling of nuts and it instantly becomes fancier. Like so:
Have you made this salad, or one like it? Tell me, what are your thoughts and feelings on cilantro? Don't hold back.
The recipe, from ThePioneerWoman.com:
- 1 package Linguine Noodles, cooked, rinsed, and cooled
- ½ heads Sliced Napa Cabbage, or more to taste
- ½ heads Sliced Purple Cabbage, or more to taste
- ½ bags Baby Spinach, or more to taste
- 1 whole Red Bell Pepper, sliced thin
- 1 whole Yellow Bell Pepper, sliced thin
- 1 whole Orange Bell Pepper, sliced thin
- 1 bag Bean Sprouts (also Called Mung Bean Sprouts)
- Chopped Cilantro, up to 1 Bunch, to taste
- 3 whole Scallions, sliced
- 3 whole Cucumbers, peeled and sliced
- 1 can (about 10 Oz.) Whole Cashews, lightly toasted in skillet
FOR THE DRESSING:
- 1 whole lime, juiced
- 8 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 8 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons (up To 3 Tablespoons) Sesame Oil
- ⅓ cups Brown Sugar
- 3 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger, chopped
- 2 cloves Garlic, chopped
- 2 whole Hot Peppers or Jalapenos, chopped
- Chopped Cilantro
Mix salad ingredients together. Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over salad. Mix with tongs or hands and serve on a platter.
Note: dressing keeps for up to three days before serving, without cilantro.