As everyone does, we try to make the most of our weekends — attempting to find the perfect balance between to-do lists and errands versus “lamping” (Dan and his brothers’ term for sitting around, doing nothing — as a lamp does) and having fun. Sometimes you just don’t have enough time to hit up both Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond on a Saturday. For us, enjoying a lazy Saturday morning while still managing to feel productive usually involves planning our menu for the following week while watching HGTV or cooking shows. (Dan occasionally sneaks in a Star Wars or superhero movie as well, especially if we’ve already seen whatever home improvement or cooking show happens to be on at the time.) One of our favorite Saturday cooking shows is “Easy Chinese,” which features Chef Ching-He Huang touring local markets and restaurants in the Bay Area (sometimes other places too) for the best fresh ingredients and (mostly Asian) dishes, which she then makes her own by showing viewers how to easily recreate her versions at home. This Italian soba noodle salad is one of the easiest we’ve ever seen her make. When we made it, we didn’t even consult the full recipe — we just cooked it from the notes I jotted down during the show. We made a couple of changes, but that’s another thing that is great about the recipe — you can adapt the ingredients to suit your taste preferences. And with its fusion of Italian (sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, olive oil and arugula) and Asian (soba noodles, sesame oil, mirin, rice vinegar, soy and shiitake mushrooms), this salad is as delicious as it is easy.
Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and thinly slice the mushroom caps.
Since we happened to have some fresh asparagus in the fridge, we decided to add it to the salad. We borrowed a technique that we noticed in the Thai fried rice dish from one of our favorite restaurants and chopped the asparagus stalks into very small pieces, which helps the asparagus flavor and texture blend well with the other ingredients in the finished dish.
Likewise, chop the olives and sun dried tomatoes (we actually used roasted red pepper, since we had some on hand) into small pieces.
Boil the soba noodles according to the package directions. We used about 1 and a half bundles of noodles, but you can use more or less, depending on your preferred noodle-to-salad-ingredients ratio.
In a large bowl, toss the cooked noodles with a couple dashes of sesame oil.
To make the dressing, whisk together 3 tablespoons each of mirin (also known as sweet rice wine), rice vinegar, soy sauce and olive oil. Because we love the flavor of sesame oil, we used half sesame and half olive oil instead of olive oil alone. If you like your Asian food spicy, you could also add some sriracha, chili garlic sauce or even red pepper flakes to the dressing. We didn’t add any spice because we didn’t want to mask or overwhelm the other flavors of the salad.
Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat (as Chef Ching says, “Wok On!”), add about a tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil, then add a couple cloves of minced garlic and ginger (the ginger was our addition — about a half-inch piece, peeled and finely chopped) to the oil and cook for about 30 seconds.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Push the mushrooms out to the sides of the skillet, add the asparagus to the center and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
Add a teaspoon or so of cold water to the skillet, then cover and allow the veggies to steam for 1-2 minutes.
Off the heat, add a teaspoon of soy sauce to the veggies and allow them to cool to room temperature.
Toss the veggies together with the noodles, sun dried tomatoes (or roasted red pepper), olives and arugula, then slowly add dressing and toss until the salad is dressed to your liking.
We served the salad with spicy garlic shrimp, which nicely balanced out the fresh Italian and Asian flavors. Figuring out how to add more free time to the weekends, without adding more items to the to-do lists, should be so easy.