Today I bring to you a special post from my fabulous summer intern Sophia. Sophia is a future dietitian with a love for food and cooking, and I am so happy we got to work together this summer. Sophia and I first met at a cooking class I attended where she was working as an assistant to a personal chef during her gap year before college. Our paths fortuitously crossed paths again just over a year later as we were in the same training class at CycleBar, where we are both spin instructors. Half Italian and half Canadian, Sophia spent much of her childhood and early teenage years in Switzerland, so she brings ton of inspiration and food knowledge to the kitchen. I love that she is not afraid to test out new ingredients in the kitchen and get totally creative — like with this dish. I know you’ll love this recipe she developed as much as I do. Take it away, Sophia!
Growing up Italian, pasta, bread, and all the carbs were a big part of my diet. And don’t get me wrong this girl LOVES her carbs (give me all the gluten). But some days, especially in the warmer months I crave something a little lighter. Something a little more vegetable forward. This, combined with a love of fresh, yet, bold flavors turned this Italian girl on to all things Asian cuisine.
On thing I love about Asian cuisine is that you can “mess up” and end up with something absolutely delicious. Sure, there are guiding principles of flavor development — just like with any cuisine — but you really don’t have to follow a strict recipe. As long as you have a good mix of colors and textures, along with a yummy sauce, you’re golden. This recipe is just that. It’s a little bit of this and that, and if you want to change up the ingredients, go for it! Experiment away! Don’t do peanut butter? Try tahini or almond butter. Not a fan of cilantro? Swap in mint (or even a Thai basil). You can use green cabbage instead of red, and add in any of your favorite veggies. Snap peas would also be delicious here. This is ultimately what I call an Asian kitchen sink salad. The mix of crunch veggies with this mouthwatering, creamy dreamy sauce is just…ok I need this in my belly right now!
Let’s talk about Kelp — the inspiration for this dish. I’m guessing that not too many of you have ever cooked with kelp (or maybe even heard of it before). That’s ok. Don’t be scared — it’s actually very easy to use and brings a unique texture to this dish. With a neutral flavor, it takes on the flavors of whatever you pair it with. Kelp is a type of large brown seaweed that is typically found in nutrient-rich saltwater. Like other sea vegetables, kelp contains antioxidants including carotenoids, flavonoids, and alkaloids, all of which play a role in prevention of many chronic diseases. It also provides some vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. What kelp is most touted for, though, is that it’s a good source of iodine, which is incredibly important for thyroid function. As many of us move away from processed foods (fortified with iodine) and trade in table salt (also fortified) for fancier salts, we may be missing out on this important nutrient. Outside of the many health benefits, kelp noodles are gluten-free and low in carbohydrates, for those of you looking for that. But don’t worry, we’re certainly not sacrificing flavor for the sake of gluten, here.
This salad is bursting with flavor, texture, and nutritious ingredients. The vibrant colors of the vegetables in this dish — carrots, cabbage, cucumber, onions, and herbs — are also chock full of phytonutrients, or plant nutrients that have many health benefits. Although light, it’s incredibly filling from the fiber-rich vegetables paired with the healthy fats found in the sesame, peanuts, and nut butter-filled dressing. Which brings me to this dressing. The combination of peanut butter with ginger, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce is so delicious, you might just want to eat it with a spoon. You’ve been warned.
The best thing about this salad is that it is super versatile! It pairs beautifully with a simple miso-glazed salmon, grilled shrimp, baked tofu, or leftover rotisserie chicken. One last bonus is that it stores well in the fridge for a few days, so you can enjoy all the leftovers or pack it for lunch.
A note about kelp: Look for it in the Asian section of many common grocery stores. If you can’t find the noodles locally, order them on Amazon. My favorite brand is Sea Tangle, but any brand works. They can either be eaten straight out of the package after rinsing them with cold water (if you’re craving some crunch), or what I like to do is to soak them in a nice hot water bath for 30 minutes. This softens them so you get more of an al dente pasta then super crunchy noodles.