Thursday, September 12, 2013

spicy rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables + sesame soy dressing {vegan + gluten-free}

spicy rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables + sesame soy dressing

If you've been around here for a while you will have noticed I love fresh herbs. I don't do the "add 1 tablespoon" thing. I go the whole hog and use fresh herbs such as mint, basil and coriander (cilantro) with reckless abandon, throwing in huge handfuls of each into my salads and using them in place of lettuce. I think I've always done this, but I also know marrying into a Vietnamese family has helped this little obsession along quite nicely too, as it's not an uncommon site in my mother-in-laws house to see huge -scrap that-, humongous platters of fresh herbs and salad greens served up with every feast we have.

Untitled Untitled Untitled spicy rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables + sesame soy dressing

When we all catch up to feast on banh xeo or rice paper rolls, bowlfuls of herbs are eaten, not just a mere sprinkle. I love it, and my herbs in our garden out back are one of my most prized possessions. Our mint grows in two big pots, which I alternate, trimming back one when it gets too leggy and old before I start picking from the other one, starting the cycle again. Thai basil grows everywhere in our garden, with its beautiful purple flowers adding a little drama here and there too.

Spring is the time when everything starts to come back to life and with all the rain we've had over the past few weeks the herbs have been looking rather lush and desperately in need of a good picking. So, I got to making one of my favourite kinds of salads. Slippery rice noodles, lightly pickled vegetables, tons of herbs and sesame seeds all bound together in a light sesame soy dressing with just a touch of licorice from the Chinese 5-spice.

spicy rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables + sesame soy dressing

spicy rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables + sesame soy dressing
If you have a mandolin or any sort of vegetable shredded, this comes in handy here. Of course you can use a sharp knife to finely shred the vegetables if you like, but I like the texture best if they are really, really fine. You can find rice vinegar and black vinegar (also made from rice) at your local Asian grocers. Just make sure you check the ingredients of the black vinegar if you are sensitive to gluten as some brands do contain wheat. I use Pun Chun brand. We have loads of Thai basil growing in our garden all year round, but if you can't get your hands on it, regular sweet basil is fine.
Serves 2 or more as a side

2 small carrots, peeled and shredded finely

1 small Lebanese cucumber, shredded finely
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup (125ml) rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup or unrefined raw sugar

150g thin rice noodles
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves (or use regular basil), roughly torn
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly torn
1/2 cup mint leaves, roughly torn
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 teaspoons lightly toasted sesame seeds

sesame soy dressing
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon (Chinese) black vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
1 birds-eye chilli, finely chopped (de-seed if you aren't a fan of hot)

Place the shredded carrots and cucumber in separate bowls. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of salt over each and mix well to evenly distribute. Set aside for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile combine rice vinegar and brown rice syrup/sugar in a small saucepan and bring up to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes or until reduced by half, thickened and slightly syrupy. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Squeeze excess liquid from the carrot and cucumber and combine the vegetables in a small bowl with the cooled vinegar syrup. 

Cook rice noodles in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 2-4 minutes or until just tender. Drain into a sieve and run under cold water to prevent them from cooking any further. Drain well and place into a large bowl along with the shredded cabbage, herbs and sesame seeds. 

Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Drain pickled vegetables (you can re-use the syrup for more pickled vegetables if you like and then store them in the fridge for 2-3 days) and add to the salad bowl. Pour over dressing and serve immediately. 

Inspired by this recipe from the archives.


  1. This salad is gorgeous - so full of colour! Love this.

  2. Yum. This is like a salad of the inside of a rice paper roll. And I am down with that.

  3. I love this gorgeous salad Emma! I'd love this for lunch today. I'm with you, I LOVE big plates full of herbs, which is why I grow a lot of my own at home. I'll have to try your trick of having two pots of herbs and alternating harvesting from them. I think I get a bit too excited and take too much from mine, which is why I have trouble keeping them alive. Still it's much cheaper than buying bunches!

  4. WOW I am bookmarking this recipe!! Looks so tasty!

  5. So beautiful--I'm feeling inspired to expand my "herb garden" beyond our single basil plant now!

  6. Looks absolutely delicious! Autumn has struck Luxembourg, but I'd still love to dig into this summery salad right now :)

  7. I absolutely love dishes that allow me to feast on herbs too. Just chucking a huge handful into a salad makes me so happy. These noodles just shot right to the top of my list. We're swimming in Thai basil and chilies right now! The flowers on yours look so much more vivid than mine though. Just gorgeous. xo

  8. I'm glad to hear that you love herbs too Emm, I always say they are ingredients not just garnishes! Wonderful recipe indeed, definitely on my menu soon :)

  9. I think it's so nice to make herbs the main event rather than just an accent flavour. Such a lovely bright and lively salad! xx

  10. i adore this type of salad, as i love noodles and am always trying to find ways to incorporate it in our daily meals, without having to add broth/soup.

    i will tell you that we planted an illegal rooftop garden this past summer and grew basil & mint. at first they grew so plentiful, every evening's meal was a delight. granted it is the end of summer, but just prior to that i noticed the pots were getting kinda ragged. i think i'm going to incorporate your method of two pots per plant so i can alternate and not trim the one pot to death like i've apparently been doing all summer! it was our first garden, live & learn!

    1. Haha, if it makes you feel any better... it took me years of growing my own herbs to realise this is the best way to guarantee a year-round supply! :-)

    2. i made a variation of this last night for dinner, i added tofu for protein. it was wonderful. i was full without that disgusting feeling of bloat.

      how do you keep your noodles from clumping? or is this an exercise in futility?

    3. Yay, so glad to hear! My original recipe had tofu, so good call :-) The noodles do tend to clump together in the bowl a little, but just make sure you don't over cook them to begin with, and rinse them under cold running water as soon as they are done. If it really bothers you, you can always oil them a little before mixing with the rest of the ingredients. xx

  11. Okay, I love this!! I'm always looking for new fun salad recipes an since i love noodles this is perfect. It looks so delicious i really can't wait to try it out myself. Oh and I completely feel you on the herb front, nothings better than a handful of fresh herbs

  12. I love herby salads and it is always such a pleasure to pick an armful from the garden although I have to keep reminding my husband that these are the perfect salads for winter when he craves for tomatoes and cucumbers that I refuse to buy out of season :o)

  13. I was hoping to clarify something in the realm of there being no stupid questions; Is the pickling of the vegies simply salting them and draining of the excess liquid or am I missing a step?


    1. :-) I had to double check I had included all the steps for pickling the vegetables! Phew, I had, all instructions are up there in the method. This is just a quick pickle, so after the veges are salted (to remove excess liquid) and squeezed dry, they are then combined with the reduced vinegar/sugar mixture and set aside briefly while you make the rest of the salad. Hope that makes it a little clearer xx

  14. Gorgeous salad, Emma. Just perfect for this lovely weather.

  15. I've been craving a bowl of noodles and this recipe just hit the spot. I won't be able to make it today as it's 10 pm already but I hope to make this in the next few days!

    Have a delicious and joyful week,

  16. Emma, your salad looks SO good. And I love that you use herbs with reckless abandon. Having a garden packed with herbs is always inspiring isn't it? Everything tastes better with snipped herbs on top.
    Once again it's wild to think of you emerging from winter just as our summer comes to an end. I envy your spring - my favorite time of year.
    xoxo to you and your family,

    1. So weird eh? It still feels like winter here though, the past few weeks have been super stormy! Hope you are well love xx

  17. Such beautiful fresh herbs, Emma—and pickled veggies always cut through the perfumed potency with that nice acid. Both are beauties of Southeast cuisine... maybe I should marry into a Vietnamese family, too :)

  18. This is what I was planning for my dinner tonight! Perfect timing :-)

  19. Replies
    1. It's there at the bottom of the post. If you are reading on a phone or tablet it may not be showing (having some issues there), so make sure you view on a computer to see it. Cheers xx

  20. Just pinned this one! All my fav flavours, can't wait to try it.

  21. Sounds really good. Love spicy rice, thanks for posting.



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