This time of year we have lots of herbs in our garden but it’s too hot to want to stir any boiling sauces or roast anything in the oven. Salads like these are an easy way to get a lot of flavor without heating up the kitchen. I’d love to enjoy them year-round, but they’re a lot more expensive when the herbs are harder to find than walking out on our deck and grabbing little bundles of anything growing out there.
The recipes below are drawn from Vietnamese, Korean, and Italian cookbooks. I have no personal way of verifying the authenticity of my directions, but I can say that I’ve made each multiple times and always enjoyed the results and had no complaints from friends I’ve shared them with. Some of the ingredients may not be commonly found at major grocery stores, but are worth looking up if you have any local ethnic markets with wider selections.
I would describe the Vietnamese Noodle Herb Salad as a deconstructed spring roll recipe (much easier to serve a crowd than assembling individual rolls, if not as elegant). Make sure to use thin noodles that only have rice flour – the ones with cornstarch stay a lot crunchier and don’t absorb the delicious sweet chili sauce sauce as well. Then simply toss the noodles with fresh bean sprouts and other thinly sliced vegetables – lettuce and cucumbers work well – along with as wide a variety of herbs as suits your fancy. Mint adds a nice fresh note along with basil, chives, and whatever else I happened to grab. Sometimes I have fun by mixing in some edible flowers – nasturtium, lemon geranium, blossoms from our herbs.
The Korean Chive Salad is sort of like a spicier, more colorful coleslaw with the mix of napa cabbage and red cabbage to add color and crunch. It would be tricky to get the right flavor if you don’t have access to toasted sesame oil and Korean chili flakes, which are fresher and sweeter than the usual dried New Mexico chili flakes that come in packets with pizza. You could experiment and create something new, but the flavor with the authentic ingredients is really superb.
Insalata Caprese is the simplest by far: just slice your tomatoes and cheese and layer with basil. Some versions call for olive oil, but I think it’s tasty enough without that or any other seasoning, personally. Add salt and pepper if you must, but don’t bother to call it a Caprese salad if you don’t use fresh mozzarella. String cheese just won’t work as a substitute. A friend who spent the summer in Italy said she saw it all the time there and was happy to have us serve it at her wedding shower, where I had the excellent help of some younger cooks in assembling it.
Vietnamese Rice Noodles with Fresh Herbs
- 8 oz. rice noodles – vermicelli style (no cornstarch in them or they’ll stay too crunchy)
- 1/4 cup (more, if you like) nuoc cham – sweet chillie dipping sauce (or sweet and sour sauce plus chopped chilies, if you can’t find it)
- rice wine vinegar (optional)
- 1 small cucumber
- 1/2 cup beansprouts
- 4-6 lettuce leaves, shredded
- 1 bunch mixed herbs: basil, cilantro, chives, mint, oregano, etc.
- juice of 1/2 lime
Bring a large pan of water to boil – add noodles and cook quickly (3-4 min. max) until al dente. Drain and immediately rinse in cold water to keep them from getting soft. Drain thoroughly. Before you mix the noodles with the dipping sauce, take a moment to taste the sauce. If it’s too thick or you think it will be too sweet (the sauces vary a bit) you can thin it with some rice wine vinegar. Mix it thoroughly with the noodles:
Next, cut the cucumber in half and scoop out the seeds, then cut into thin strips (peeling the cucumber is up to you). Rinse the bean sprouts, cut the lettuce into thin strips and roughly chop your herbs:
Mix the veggies into the noodles and serve (edible flowers are added last as garnishes)!
Serves 4 (I usually multiply it)
Korean Chive Slaw
- 1 handful garlic chives (sometimes called “Chinese chives”), cut into 2″ pieces
- 1 thin wedge napa cabbage, finely sliced
- 1 thin slice red cabbage, finely sliced
- 1/4 white or red onion, finely sliced
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. Korean chili flakes
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp. cider or rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 garlic clove, crushed.
Thinly slice the veggies and combine in a large bowl. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl – don’t be surprised if it’s a thick pasty sort of sauce, it will still distribute well over the veggies. If you like your cabbage salad more on the tangy side, you can increase the vinegar and lemon juice.
Serves 2-3 (again, I usually multiply this several times)