HOME WITH THE LOST ITALIAN: Asian noodle slaw: A healthy, fresh alternative to Chinese takeout

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Earlier this month, nearly 30 members of our Mathison family clan gathered at Pelican Lake to celebrate the 99th birthday of my beloved grandmother, Sunny Mathison. Four generations were present to witness Sunny’s entrance into her centennial year, and I marvel at the mere fact that I am part of her gene pool.

My Grandma Sunny loves Chinese cuisine, and on that beautiful summer evening we feasted on a variety of her favorite dishes, all lovingly homemade by various family members, which included specialties like General Tso’s chicken, chicken chow mein, hand-made egg rolls and spring rolls.

While these dishes were delicious and well executed, their preparation is quite involved and more than I care to attempt this summer. However, there was one dish I knew I could make at home, an appealing Asian Noodle Slaw made by my sister-in-law (another Sarah), which is so easy that I’ve already made it twice since that weekend.

Sarah found the inspiration for this recipe while searching on Pinterest, where its colorful and attractive appearance caught her attention. A whiz in the kitchen, Sarah adapted the recipe to make it her own, and the result was both gorgeous and flavorful.

Rice noodles are the base of this salad, which can be made entirely gluten-free by substituting Tamari for the soy sauce. Sarah opted for a brown rice noodle, which provided a lovely balance in color and nutrition to the dish. Rice noodles come in different sizes, and for this recipe Sarah chose the ultra-thin maifun noodle, which is similar to angel hair pasta.

The slaw in this dish comes from the addition of cabbage and carrots, and while you could chop your own Napa cabbage and carrots, I saved time by purchasing bags of already prepared coleslaw mix and shredded carrots.

The big flavor in this salad comes from the dressing, which is made from a blend of classic Asian ingredients like Hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame seed oil, garlic and fresh ginger. These flavors are rounded out by the addition of fresh cilantro, honey, a touch of cayenne pepper and scallions. Slicing the scallions on a diagonal better releases their flavor and enhances the overall presentation of the dish.

This salad is fast and easy to prepare. The rice noodles take only 2 to 3 minutes to cook in boiling water, and, to save even more time, you can use a food processor to prepare the dressing instead of mincing the garlic and ginger by hand. It is best when made a day in advance, which allows the flavors to fully come together, and can be refrigerated for at least four to five days.

Donned in custom-made black caps embroidered with the birthday slogan “99 and Sunny,” with warm hearts and full bellies, our Irish-Norwegian clan merrily regaled our special lady with a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.” The memories of that singular night will live on until we gather again, a year from now, to continue our Sunny celebration.

“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

Asian Noodle Slaw

Serves: 8 to 10

Salad Ingredients:

1 8-ounce package brown rice noodles

4 to 5 cups packaged coleslaw mix

1 cup shredded carrots

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)

4 to 5 scallions, sliced on a diagonal, green and white parts

Asian dressing

Salt and pepper, to taste

Asian Dressing Ingredients:

1/4 cup soy sauce, or Tamari for gluten-free version

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more for extra spice

1 clove garlic

1 thumb ginger, peeled

Prepare the dressing first to allow the flavors to settle and marinate. In a food processor, add all the dressing ingredients and blend until well combined; set aside. If making by hand, be sure that the garlic and ginger are finely minced and use a whisk to combine.

Next, fill a large pot with water and 1 tablespoon kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice noodles and cook for only 2 to 3 minutes until al dente. Drain the noodles and rinse immediately with cold water.

Transfer the cooked noodles to a large bowl and add the dressing; toss to combine. Add the coleslaw mix, shredded carrots, fresh cilantro and scallions and use kitchen tongs to mix well until incorporated. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.

Can be served immediately, but even better when made one day in advance. May be refrigerated for up to five days.

Sarah’s Tips:

For a heartier dish, add grilled shrimp, chicken or pork.

If using a food processor to make the dressing, you don’t have to mince the garlic and ginger.

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for large batches.

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