The New Rules of Pasta Salad: How to Work With Asian Noodles


Last week I got on my high horse and proclaimed my general dislike of traditional American pasta salads. Then I laid out a set of rules for how to make pasta salad taste much, much better. Now here's the fun part, because today's the day that I explain a situation in which my rules don't hold up.

See, all of my rules were for pasta salads made using dried Italian-style wheat pasta. But for some reason—and I've been unsuccessfully racking my brain all week trying to come up with a plausible explanation for why—my guidelines don't apply to most Asian noodles. I'm not sure if it's because many of those noodles use different starch bases like buckwheat and rice, or if it's the alkaline salts added to some noodles, or if there's some other reason, but when it comes to Asian noodles, you can go ahead and forget at least half of what I wrote before.

For example, there was Rule #1, Subsection A, which states that you should approach pasta salad like a hot pasta, coating it in a sauce that will taste good at room temperature, not a vinegary dressing. Well, when it comes to Asian noodles, you can use your vinaigrette with impunity because they can take it and come out tasting great.

And then there was Subsection B to Rule #1: Avoid raw vegetables in almost all cases. But if you're starting with Asian noodles, adding raw vegetables can be a great idea. One delicious example: hiyashi chuka, the Japanese cold noodle dish, which features chilled ramen noodles with an assortment of toppings including seafood and raw, thinly sliced vegetables. Kenji's recipe for shirataki noodles in a chili dressing with strips of cucumber is another example that proves this exception.

The recipe I'm sharing today also breaks my (Italian) pasta salad rules and comes out wonderfully. It starts with cold soba (buckwheat) noodles, paired up with raw cucumbers, seaweed, and blanched asparagus, all tossed in a soy-based dressing with lemon juice (see? I'm adding acid here!), ginger, and both sesame seeds and oil. It's cool, it's refreshing, and it scratches that I need to be healthy because I just ate a pint of ice cream itch some of us sometimes get when the weather warms. In a lot of ways this dish just eats more like an actual salad than most pasta salads made with Italian pasta do—there's salad magic in those noodles, I tell you.


For the noodles themselves, you'll be following the package directions, cooking the noodles until tender, then draining them in a colander. To chill your noodles down, rinse with cold running water.

You'll add a mix of textures to the dish by varying the preparation of your vegetables. Leave the cucumbers raw so they'll contribute a crisp, thirst-quenching bite. The asparagus get blanched just enough to take off the raw edge, but still leave a hint of crisp snap and plenty of fresh green flavor behind (notice, I'm not totally abandoning my directive to avoid raw vegetables—even with Asian noodles, some are better cooked, at least a little). Finally, you'll take the seaweed—you can buy dried wakame in health food stores and at well-stocked markets with good Asian sections—and rehydrate it. Nothing tricky: you'll just soak it in warm water for about 10 minutes before draining it and squeezing it dry.