Cold Rice Noodle Salad! This cool and refreshing Asian noodle salad is totally vegan and gluten-free, and has a zippy peanut sauce to complement. You can mix and match the vegetables as you see fit, which makes this healthy recipe family-friendly and versatile as well!
Anyone else in a dinner rut?
I don’t know if it’s the weather, being in that last push before summer vacation, or what, but I am so not into cooking these days. We’ve been ordering takeout a lot, which is fun at first, but our options are kinda limited, it’s expensive, and I don’t think most of what we get is all that healthy, try as we might.
The best of both worlds solution is to whip up a dinner that’s practically as easy as takeout (they exist, I promise!) easy to prep mostly in advance, and satisfies the cravings of everyone around.
Friends, meet my Cold Rice Noodle Salad!
For the longest time I would get annoyed every time my husband requested an Asian noodle salad for dinner. Not that I didn’t like the flavours, but I found the salads messy to make and found that I never got a good ratio of noodles to vegetables in my dish.
Finally I stumbled upon a ground-breaking solution to the whole thing: don’t toss the salad!
Guys this is revolutionary. I prepare all of the components in advance, lay them out buffet style, and everyone tops their own bowl of noodles with whatever vegetables / sauce / protein they want. Then all the vegetables and sauce and good stuff end up on top of each bowl, rather than buried at the bottom of the big serving bowl.
It’s also a good solution in households like mine where some of us are vegetarians (me) and some of us are not (my boys).
I like serving Cold Rice Noodle Salad like this because I find it empowers my two-year-old, since he can build his own plate and is more likely to actually eat what he puts on it (hint: all of the baby corn). It does not, however, reduce the amount of rice noodles I end up picking up from the floor afterwards.
So let’s talk about what’s up in this bomb diggity vegan noodle salad bowl. We’ve got rice noodles in the house, obviously. I like to use the wider rice stick noodles in this case, like the kind that are used in Pad Thai, but if skinny noodles is more your style then be my guest.
We’ve got a choose-your-own-adventure vegetable situation. I went with red pepper, cucumber, baby corn, and kohlrabi, but you can mix it up according to what’s in season, what you’ve got on hand, and what you like best. I also feel like this is a salad that does well with that whole salty-sweet combination, so I love throwing some diced mango into the mix.
Then we’ve got tofu. Folks, I’ve included an extra step here and pan-fry the tofu before marinating it in the sauce. I do this not to be annoying, but because I find that not only does it improve the texture of the tofu (chewy! not slimy!) but it also allows the sauce to cling to the crisped edges of the tofu and soak up the flavour much better than without. It’s totally negotiable, though. Feel free to skip this step at your discretion.
And what would a rice noodle salad be without a killer sauce, I ask you? Just boring noodles, I think. We’re making a zippy peanut sauce that’s just the right amount of spicy to take the whole thing home. Then we’re going to top it with roasted cashews and lots of cilantro, and boom, dinner is done.
Tips for making amazing cold rice noodle salad:
- Each and every part of this salad can and should be prepared in advance. Make a Cold Rice Noodle Salad Bar in your fridge, I tell ya!
- You’re going to want to rinse the rice noodles under cold water and then toss them with a bit of sesame oil to loosen them up. This step is particularly important if you’re making the noodles in advance, which do I encourage.
- Allergic to peanuts? Don’t sweat it. You can easily replace the peanut butter with almond butter or sesame paste.
- Don’t like tofu? No worries you can replace it with another protein (plant-based or otherwise) of your choice. My husband likes to top this with shrimp, chicken, or even thinly sliced steak. I like to switch it up with edamame or tempeh from time to time.
- Want even more protein? You might want to try this dish with bean noodles instead of rice noodles. They’re super good in asian noodle bowl style dishes like this one
- Want to make this for packed lunches or meal-prep bowls? Great idea! Pack everything in layers and leave the sauce off until you’re ready to serve. Add the cashews at the last minute, too, otherwise they’ll get soggy.
Hey Nutrition Lady, what’s the deal with tofu?
Tofu is a protein-packed plant-based food made by fermenting or coagulating soy milk into a cake. Although tofu is made from soybeans –> soy milk –> tofu, it’s made with significantly less processing than soy protein isolates or other commercially prepared soy foods (like TVP and fake meat products) and can be more or less considered a whole food.
Tofu is an excellent source of calcium, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a good source of iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B1. Tofu also provides a range of phytonutrients including flavonoids, isoflavonoids, and phenolic acids.
If you want to take a deeper dive into the health benefits (or drawbacks) of soy, you can check that out here.
Other tasty bowls you might enjoy:
Cold Rice Noodle Salad
This cool and refreshing Asian noodle salad is totally vegan and gluten-free, and has a zippy peanut sauce to complement. You can mix and match the vegetables as you see fit, which makes this healthy recipe family-friendly and versatile as well!
- 14 ounce rice noodles
- 8 ounces firm tofu diced
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/3 cup natural peanut butter preferably smooth
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce or liquid aminos
- 2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes or to taste
- 1 medium red bell pepper sliced into thin strips
- 1 small kohlrabi peeled and sliced into matchsticks
- 1/2 large long english cucumber sliced into sticks
- 1 can baby corn drained and sliced lengthwise
- 1 large mango peeled and diced
- 1 bunch cilantro roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup roasted cashews
Cook the rice noodles according to package directions. Once cooked, drain, rinse well with cold water, and toss with a bit of sesame oil to loosen up. Set aside.
Heat 2 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp toasted sesame oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet.
Add the cubed tofu to the pan, and cook over medium-high heat until the tofu is nicely browned on all sides. This should take around 10 minutes.
While the tofu is cooking, prepare the sauce.
Whisk the peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, chili flakes, and toasted sesame oil in a bowl. Set aside.
When the tofu is done browning, allow it to cool slightly, and then add the tofu to the sauce to marinate while you prepare the vegetables.
Slice the red pepper into thin strips.
Peel the kohlrabi, and slice into pencil-thick slices, and then stack those up and slice into matchsticks.
Slice the cumber into matchsticks of a similar size to the kohlrabi.
Slice the baby corn in half or quarters lengthwise.
Peel and dice the mango.
To serve the cold rice noodle salad, divide the noodles amongst six bowls. Top with marinated tofu and sauce, sliced vegetables, mango, cilantro, and cashews.
Alternately, serve buffet style so people can assemble their own salads.
Nutrition values are an estimate only.
Originally published July 2010