Summer is a high energy/ yang period when the fire element dominates (You can really feel it these days with the hot and humid weather, plus global warming). Some Chinese doctors recommend cutting back on coffee, red meats, and other heavy foods which tend to have a heating effect on the body and create sluggishness. That is why we crave seafood (especially from cold waters), salads with lots of raw vegetables, soy products and other cooling foods which tend to remove heat from the body.
Since all types of local seasonal vegetables are at their peak in the farmer’s markets and in stores, emphasize them in your cooking and prepare dishes with brightly colored summer fruits and vegetables, enjoying and creating a “rainbow on the plate” effect. Season the dishes with pungent seasonings like garlic, ginger, hot chillis, and lemongrass- even curry. And summer is no better time than preparing one of the many meal-in-one layered Asian salads.
Asian salads or cold platters can be deliciously unpredictable, but they often follow a pattern: Cold rice vermicelli, flour and egg pasta, soba or cellophane noodles serve as the textural base or staple. Vegetables such as carrots, bean sprouts, celery, and various lettuces, cabbages, and cucumbers or any seasonal vegetable are typically used with the occasional addition of tropical fruits. Each ingredient lends its unique flavor and texture. Meats, such as chicken, pork, beef, or seafood (shrimp, scallops, even lobster) and garnishes include tofu, chopped herbs and nuts. Asian rice vinegar (I prefer the unseasoned Japanese Marukan brand, which is sold in mainstream supermarkets), with fresh lime or lemon juice are key elements of the dressing with toasted sesame oil, a little sugar, and soy or fish sauce rounding out the taste. A host of pungent seasonings like garlic, ginger, scallions, chili peppers, cilantro, basil and mint add vibrancy and freshness. Once combined, these ingredients not only add flavor, but pull the different components together as a whole.
One of my favorite meal-in-one salads that is perfect for this time of year is my “Easy Basil Chicken Summer Salad with Soba” (See the recipe below)
EASY BASIL CHICKEN SALAD WITH SOBA NOODLES 6 servings
3/4 pound snow or snap peas, ends snapped and veiny strings removed
12 ounces soba noodles
6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
4 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces (reserve the greens for the garnish)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 pound cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin julienne strips
Reserved scallion greens, cut into 1/4-inch sections
Dressing (combine in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves)
1/2 cup light soy sauce, or to taste
6 tablespoons Japanese clear rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin, or rice wine or sake mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the snow peas and cook for 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon and drain in a strainer or colander under cold running water. Bring the water to a boil again and add the soba noodles. Once the water boils again, cook for 3 1/2 minutes, or until al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse the noodles under warm running water. Drain again.
2. To make the Spicy Pesto: Drop the garlic, scallion whites, and red pepper flakes down the feed tube of a food processor while the motor is running and chop finely. Open up the bowl and add the basil leaves. Pulse, turning the machine on and off, then slowly pour the sesame and olive oil down the feed tube and chop the mixture to a fine paste. Add the lemon juice and soy sauce and continue blending until the mixture is a fairly smooth paste.
3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cooked soba noodles with the pesto mixture. Arrange in a large shallow bowl or platter. Sprinkle the snap peas evenly over the noodles, followed by the julienne chicken, and finishing with the scallion greens. Serve the Dressing on the side in a sauce bowl, or drizzle on top of the salad. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Substitute cooked shrimp, pork, or flavored tofu for the chicken. You can also replace the snow or snap peas with 2 1/2 cups shredded carrots, bean sprouts, or other sliced vegetables.