Photo: Dan Jones
Photo: Dan Jones

FOOD HONESTLY

Lunch that will make you want to leave your desk

Lunch over our laptops is a bad habit. So much better to make a big batch of noodle salad you can bring to work – that way you’ll make time to sit down and eat it, says Anna Jones

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By Anna Jones on

Whatever I’m doing and wherever I am, I always try to take a break at lunchtime to sit down away from my computer. When I’m on a food photo shoot, my favourite part the day is lunches where we sit down together and feast on the dishes we’ve been making. Working to publishing deadlines so far in advance means we might be eating a vegetarian Christmas feast in August, or a picnic spread in February, but whatever the season, we’ll take twenty minutes to sit down and enjoy it, surrounded by props, backgrounds and camera cables. 

If I’m at my desk writing, then I’ll usually stop and make something quickly – a soft herbed omelette, Turkish fried eggs, or I’ll make, tweak and eat one of the recipes I’ve been writing that morning.

Recently though, I’ve been out and about a lot with my little boy, and I’ve often wanted something portable to take with me and it is this flavour-packed peanut noodle salad that has been cutting the mustard. I have a serious affection for satay-style sauces and these noodles are a riff on the creaminess of just that, backed up by the freshness of Asian flavours, which suit summer eating so well. There’s just something about the clean crisp taste of lime and ginger that always manages to perfectly cut through a muggy day. 

Look for the highest quality tofu you can find. Soy crops are one of the most intensively farmed on the planet so buy organic or from a smaller producer if you can 

This salad is a great example of how layering flavours can elevate a simple bowl of noodles and vegetables to something really great; fresh zingy lime, the spiciness of ginger, the sharpness of brown rice vinegar, the creamy depth of peanut butter and a back note of sweetness from the maple syrup all come together and hit the right notes to make this dish sing.

Buckwheat noodles come in lots of different varieties and blends of buckwheat and other flours. I use the buff-coloured 100% buckwheat soba noodles as I love their deep savouriness. In fact, buckwheat isn’t wheat or even a grain at all, but a seed and a part of the rhubarb family.

It's a great option if you’re avoiding gluten or just looking for something that will fill you up but won’t leave you needing a lie down on the sofa. If you’re making this for kids or people less used to the flavour of buckwheat, I’d suggest using a noodle that’s a blend of buckwheat and regular wheat for a more mellow introduction.

Smoked tofu is one of my favourite ingredients and a great way to add a quick kick of flavour. I use it here to add depth and sustenance to the noodles.

If you aren’t (yet) a tofu convert, I encourage you to try the smoked kind, which is firm, easy to handle and has a deeply delicious, gently smoky note that works really well with the buckwheat.

Look for the highest quality tofu you can find. Soy crops are one of the most intensively farmed on the planet so buy organic or from a smaller producer if you can – you’ll find smoked tofu in most supermarkets and certainly good health food shops. If you can’t get your hands on the smoked stuff, then some unsmoked firm tofu, crisped up in a hot pan with a little oil, will do just as well.

I’ve kept the quantities fairly generous here as I like to make a big batch for a couple of lunches for two. If you’re taking the salad to work, pop the dressing in a jar and add at your desk for freshness.

 

Soba Noodle take-to-work salad with peanuts and ginger

 

Makes enough for 4 lunches

  • 200g pack of soba noodles
  • 2 medium courgettes
  • ½ a head of cabbage or spring greens (I use pointed cabbage), washed, destemmed and finely shredded
  • 6 tablespoons good quality peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • A small thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
  • ½ a teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
  • 2-4 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 small bunch of spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 50g of unsalted peanuts, bashed in a pestle and mortar
  • 200 of extra-firm or smoked tofu, cut into small cubes
  • A good handful of coriander leaves or herb cresses
  1. First use a speed peeler to peel your courgettes into long thin noodle like strips, stopping when you get to the seedy bit in the middle and put to one side.
  2. Big a large pan of salted water to a boil. Boil the soba noodles according to the packet instructions, for the last minute of cooking toss in the cabbage or greens. Drain the noodles and cabbage, run under cold water for about a minute to stop cooking, and set aside.
  3. Make the peanut dressing by combining the peanut butter, rice vinegar, ginger, sesame oil, soy and maple syrup and a big pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Thin with hot water - the amount you’ll need depends on the original consistency of your peanut butter. I like it the consistency of a smoothie.
  4. Taste and season with a bit more salt if needed. Gently toss the drained noodles and cabbage with the courgette ribbons, spring onions, peanuts, and tofu. I keep back a bit of spring onion and peanuts to go on the top make it look nice. If you are taking this on a picnic put the lot into a big container and pop into the fridge until you are ready to go.
  5. If you are eating straight away then add your dressing bit by bit, there may be a little more then you need, any extra will be great tossed through noodles, rice or veg, or even drizzled onto salad in a wrap. If you are taking the salad on a picnic then put the dressing into a jar and into the fridge until later to dress the noodles once you get there. Finish with a scattering coriander or coriander and cresses.

@we_are_food 

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Anna Jones

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