A couple months ago, when I came home from the doctor with a pamphlet on FODMAPs and a brain full of questions, one of my first (slightly panicked) messages was to my friend Ida. Not only had she gone through the same process a couple years earlier, but she’s one of the most wildly creative cooks I know. So I invited her to dinner and picked the heck out of her brain.
Of all the tips and resources Ida shared–and there were a lot–one thing stuck with me. Choose one meal, she said, that fits your dietary requirements, that you love, and that you can make with your eyes closed. That’s your go-to meal. When you feel like there’s nothing you can eat, make that. For her, during the strictest elimination phase, that meal was fajitas. For me, it’s Vietnamese-style noodle bowls.
This isn’t really a recipe–it’s a method. I start by soaking some dried rice vermicelli in near-boiling water for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I make a punchy dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and some sort of chile. Then I root through the fridge for cooked protein, raw vegetables, and fresh herbs, and cut everything up into strips or morsels. Finally, I drain and rinse the noodles and combine everything in a big bowl. (I’ve written out a more detailed description of my method and proportions below the post.)
This is the perfect thrown-together summer food. It’s light and crisp, savory and refreshing. The dressing, fresh herbs, and scallions make it intensely flavorful and exciting. It comes together in 20 minutes or less, without turning on the stove (except maybe to boil some water, and I’ve got an electric kettle for that). It fills me up without leaving a brick in my belly. It accepts whatever mishmash of veggies and meat I have in the fridge. And it’s easily tailored to even a fairly strict diet. I’ve been eating this at least twice a week for months now, making it differently every time.
When I’m in the mood for a lazy lunch, I make a soba salad. I’m a big fan of soba noodles themselves–all dark and slippery-soft and nutty–and they’re especially nice with a lightweight soy dressing and some scallion and sesame. Problem is, soba salads need either precision or pizzazz to be really special. I tend to just wing it, and so my salads come out…plain. Slightly soggy. Generic. I like them, but they don’t quite rock my world. So I haven’t shared any of my attempts here.
Until now. Because kimchi.
I don’t remember where I got the idea to add kimchi to a soba salad. Maybe it was because I had some leftovers kicking around after making kimchi fried rice. Maybe it was because so many soba salad recipes call for cabbage of some sort, and I hate hacking up a whole head to use only a handful. Maybe it was just a screaming urge to do something a little different. Whatever it was, it worked like gangbusters. Turns out that soba noodles, with their gutsy buckwheatiness, are a perfect foil for spicy, crunchy, oh-so-slightly fizzy kimchi.
Now, fair warning: I used a lot of kimchi in this salad. It ended up being almost half kimchi and half noodles. I had absolutely no problem with this, but if you’re not as crazy for kimchi as I am, you could easily back down the amount by half. I also tried mixing some of the leftover kimchi brine into the dressing, but the extra liquid made the salad soggy, so I’m going to say that’s unnecessary. Depending on your spice tolerance and the heat level of your kimchi, you could certainly boost the red-chili factor with a glob of Sriracha in the dressing–I can neither confirm nor deny that I did this.
The beauty of a soba salad like this is that it’s equally delicious at room temperature the day it’s made, and cold from the fridge the next day. My boyfriend–a software engineer who gets fed for free at work–was so smitten with this salad that he requested I leave him the leftovers. He told me later that they made a great midnight snack. That’s about the highest praise I can think of.