There's a joke about all the people who would become vegetarians, if only bacon were a vegetable. Personally, I'm too non-dogmatic about food to rule out entire categories--I like my French onion soup and venison stew. But if I ever was to make the plunge into strict vegetarianism, my true sticking point would be salmon. Specifically, smoked salmon.
My introduction to smoked salmon came in the form of hot-smoked, skin-on fillets, purchased by the pound from a smokehouse on the drive up Minnesota's North Shore. We would eat the salmon on a picnic table overlooking Lake Superior, the wind whipping my hair and wrecking havoc on the stack of paper plates. I remember it as always being fall, but maybe it just seemed like that since the chill from the lake necessitated sweatshirts on all but the hottest of summer days. We would pair our salmon with Breton crackers, a sliced brick of cojack cheese, and my mom's chocolate chip cookies, and it was one of the best meals of my childhood.
As adult, I got to know cold-smoked salmon, thinly sliced and served on bagels with cream cheese. On our trip to New York I bought a costly quarter pound of pastrami-cured salmon at Russ & Daughters, and it was worth the price just to see the man behind the counter slowly carve my salmon into translucent slices thin enough to read a newspaper through. While the silky texture and seasoning was completely different from the flaky salmon chunks of my youth, it gave me the same gustatory thrill.
I still make occasional trips up the North Shore for smoked salmon, and someday I'll go back to New York City and Russ & Daughters. In the meantime, I get my salmon fix from--of all places--IKEA. The Swedish Food Market has bargain-priced frozen smoked salmon, and I've always been impressed with the quality. Usually I buy a couple packages of the plain, but the marinated version makes an appearance at Midsummer.
I've had my eye on this salmon noodle salad for awhile now, partly because I need a way to deal with the surplus of salmon accumulating in the freezer. The flavor profile reminds me a bit of salmon sushi, with the cucumber, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. There are a few specialty ingredients: I tracked down miso at Whole Foods, and soba noodles, sesame oil, and rice vinegar are stocked in the Asian foods section of my local supermarket. The leftovers keep well; I actually made the salad when Mike was out of town and ate it over the course of a few days. Be sure to use a large pot to cook the soba noodles, since they have a tendency to boil over.
Adapted from the Kitchn
- 10-11 ounce package soba noodles
- 2 cups packed baby spinach
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup red miso paste
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 cucumber, seeded, quartered, and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 3 1/2 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into 1/4 inch by 1 inch strips
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
In a large pot, prepare noodles according to package directions. When noodles are cooked, remove from heat and add spinach. Stir until spinach is wilted. Drain noodles and spinach in a large colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Leave in the sink in order to drain completely.
Dry the pot and heat over medium heat. Add sesame oil and tilt to coat evenly. Add ginger and garlic and cook until golden, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add miso paste, vinegar, honey, and soy sauce. Stir until smooth.
In a large bowl, combine the noodles and spinach with the miso paste mixture. Toss until noodles are evenly coated.
Serve noodles topped with cucumber, salmon, green onions, and sesame seeds.