Cold Salads Are Good for Hot Weather
Maybe you've heard?
ACCORDING TO EVERY FOOD SECTION, food magazine, and food website on earth lately, salads are perfect for hot weather! (Wait, what?, the boys in the lab exclaim every time they read this. No way!)
What nobody talks about much at all is the fact that salads are perfect all the time, every day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s really never been a time when I’ve been offered a salad and my response has been: “Now? How can you ask me such a thing? It’s clearly just not the right time.”
And I’m not kidding about the three meals a day thing. It made me happy to open the fridge after my first cup of coffee recently and see that storage container half full of Diana Kennedy’s fantastic Mexican cauliflower salad, which, by the way, would be an excellent salad for a packed work or car-trip lunch. It stays crisp at room temp, and the flavors get bigger.
It made an absolutely delicious breakfast. Whoever decided in America that eggs and oatmeal and pastry are breakfast, sandwiches are lunch, and roast beef is dinner? Definitely a hospital-corners person. And more recently, who decided that a giant honeybun and an iced mochachinafudgeyshake shouldn’t raise eyebrows but my cauliflower salad should? (This is foreshadowing: We’re going to be talking about breakfast salads soon, but I would like to say now that all that stuff you put in your smoothie is salad.)
I think Japan and Korea have really got it going on when it comes to breakfast. In both countries, soup and rice and meat or fish are typically served in the morning, and in Korea kimchi—the famously delicious, fermented side dish made with cabbage, radish, and other vegetables— is often eaten at every meal. Maybe I will move to Seoul.
Which brings me to our recipe today, which features wonderful kimchi.
Last week I got dangerously close to rejecting salad—this, after braying to anyone who would listen about how I eat it all day and all night and even in my sleep. It was so hot down here that I ate nothing but popsicles and the Mexican salads we talked about. But after it rained and the air cooled off, I suddenly had a hankering for noodles and it worried me. I had finally reached a point of not wanting salads! And during “salad season,” to boot!
And then I remembered how I also bray about how everything can be and often is a salad (especially ancient, universal noodles—I’ve written a little bit about them here) and I felt relieved that in this one instance I was not a hypocrite.
I also wanted something spicy, so I settled on the sensationally simple and delicious dish, Kimchi Bibim Guksu, cold wheat noodles dressed in savory sweet spicy sauce made with red chili paste (gochujang), which I decorated with the classic accoutrements of cold cucumber and a soft-boiled egg.
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I say it is sensationally simple, because now I have all the ingredients in my house and can whip this dish up whenever I get the hankering; you should do this too. But I used the excuse that most of my kitchen is still unorganized and in boxes to go to H-Mart, which is one of my favorite places, because for me, personally, it is full of the unfamiliar and therefore the promise of discovery. But let’s get real: It’s 2022 not 1950, so most of the ingredients are going to be at your regular grocer, or, if you are Korean, in your pantry.
And this salad (which I’m going to insist on calling it) really is a pantry dish for me. I always have cucumbers and eggs (which you don’t really even need; they do turn it into more of a meal, however), sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. I usually have gochujang, and now I’m planning on keeping somyeon noodles, which are essentially Korean somen, but the truth is you could also use soba noodles here or even spaghetti. Just remember not to overcook any of them.
By the way, here’s a good list of recent Korean cookbooks.
*RECIPE: Kimchi Bibim Guksu
For 2 people
One thing I discovered while reading about this dish to make sure I’m not being a cultural clod is that the dish varies very little from recipe to recipe, except when it comes to the toppings. This one is very basic. Plus, you can make a different dish by using more of the sauce and no kimchi at all (but why?) but expanding the amount of vegetable toppings. This makes 2 pretty bowls for 2 diners, but I made several batches of the kimchi dressing to keep in the fridge for impromptu noodles.
8 ounces somyeon noodles (or somen; you may also use soba noodles—many of which are made with gluten-free buckwheat flour, if that is your thing—or thin spaghetti)
2/3 to 1 cup kimchi, thinly sliced
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons gochujang (or more; two seems to be the limit for me)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
Some juice from the kimchi jar, a tablespoon or so (optional)
1 small cucumber, julienned, (more if you like), about 1 loosely packed cup
1 handful watercress (woody stems removed), shredded lettuce, radish sprouts (which I happened to have and therefore used), or shaved cabbage; choose one or two
2 soft-boiled eggs, peeled and halved (see method below)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, slightly crushed (you can use the back of a spoon to do this; it releases more of the sesame flavor)
Cook your noodles according to package instructions, being careful not to overcook them. It only takes 3-4 minutes and you want them al dente. Immediately rinse under very cold water, tossing them with your hands, until they are completely chilled and the starch is rinsed off, then drain well. I put mine on ice until I’d made my sauce, because I am a freak. You can also make your noodles AFTER you’ve got everything else ready.
In a bowl, make the sauce by stirring together thoroughly the kimchi, gochujang, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and a tablespoon or two of the juice from the kimchi jar, if using (I used a tiny bit to thin the sauce after adding the noodles). You may chill this for about an hour before assembling your dish. (This is an Emily thing; I just wanted the noodles and the sauce to be very cold; it’s not necessary.)
Add the cold noodles to the sauce and gently toss, being careful not to tear the noodles too much. I used my hands, which are the best tool for making sure noodles are fully sauced.
Divide the noodles into delightful looking piles between two bowls, then top attractively with the vegetables, the egg halves, and a showering of sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
METHOD FOR A PERFECT SOFT-BOILED EGG:
Bring a pot of water to boil over medium-high heat. Gently place your eggs in the water using a slotted spoon. Cook for exactly 6 1/2 minutes for a quite runny egg, exactly 7 minutes for one slightly more solid (my preference). Immediately transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, about 3 minutes.
🥬 ONE MORE THING We’ve gotten a start on PRINTABLE RECIPES! You’ll start finding downloadable PDF files (SEE THEM? ABOVE?) at the end of each recipe. We’re working backward, until we have them all done. CONFUSED? Check the archive if you lose track of your e-mailed newsletter.
🥬 🥬ALSO, I’M WONDERING: Do you follow me on Instagram? My feed is not a consistent array of uniformly styled photos of perfect food, which I know is what I’m supposed to offer. But I get too bored. So it includes videos of giant pandas loudly eating carrots and personal crap representative of my bad personality. I’d love to have you. Go here: Emily’s Instagram
🥬 🥬🥬 That’s It! We’re done here! As usual, paid subscribers should keep an eye peeled for another treat soon: a second cold Korean noodle salad, plus I have that turmeric tonic recipe I’ve been threatening to master. It’s refreshing and delicious! In the meantime, if you feel like sharing the Department of Salad with friends or family who deserve it, please do so with the buttons below. Thanks for reading.