I have just had the loveliest 5 days in Wellington, staying with my husbands sister's family. The good thing about my sister in law is that she also loves to cook and I enjoy trawling through her recipe book collection and talking food with her. She manages a cafe, so is also an excellent barista, something I am always grateful for! She has a great machine at home and happily makes us our coffees in the morning, but we also call into the cafe where she works and get fab coffee there too.
For our trip down (always dreaded as it takes a good 7 hours, including stops, to get there) I decided to pack a nice picnic dinner. The options as far as decent cafes aren't that great on the way down, and I refuse to spend good money on the usual spots that litter the towns we pass through on the way like McDonalds or KFC. Even if there were good cafes, we wouldn't get much change out of $60 for dinner so I decided to set myself a budget of half that to make something yummy to take with us. Well, it ended up costing a lot less than that, so we were able to buy a couple of coffees on the way too!
After making the Peking Duck and eating food in 'wrappers' I decided to go with that theme, as it made the food nice and portable. I made a noodle salad, which is a bit of a staple of mine. I was gagging to use some noodles Miriam had kindly sent me from Hong Kong, they worked really well with this. I make it in several variations, depending on the noodles or veges I have, but mostly I use the same sort of asian style dressing for it. This was first inspired by the Vietnamese Chicken Salad in Nigella Bites: From Family Meals to Elegant Dinners, Easy, Delectable Recipes for Any Occasion which has a really lovely tangy asian dressing and although I don't follow that faithfully now, I use it as a guide whenever I am making it.
The one thing I do change is using basil, coriander AND mint, the combination of the three is a winner and gives it such a fresh and tasty flavour. I saw this in another recipe and now use the three together everytime. The chilli is a must, even if you only use a little, it really lifts it.
To serve about 4 people...adjust as you like!
So the basic dressing is:
1 1/2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 1/2 TBSP fish sauce
1 1/2 TBSP rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 TBSP sugar
1 Thai or Serrano chile, diced (and seeded if you're a wimp)
juice of 1/2 lime
(Nigella uses sliced onion in her original dressing recipe which I will often substitute with spring onions as I don't like the onion addition)
For the salad:
handful each of coriander, mint, basil, roughly chopped
handful of peanuts or cashews, roasted and roughly chopped
1 chopped red pepper
3 spring onions, sliced
1/2 cucumber, deseeded and sliced into batons
(you can also add carrots chopped into matchsticks, celery, brocolli, bok choy or finely sliced cabbage)
thin egg noodles or vermicelli (amount depends on how many you are serving, the vege and dressing usually serve about 4)
Prawns, cooked chicken or seared and sliced steak are also welcome additions to this!
Cook noodles according to instructions and cool.
Stir through dressing then assorted veges. Pop in your favourite meat or leave as is and stuff into egg pancakes made by beating an egg with about 1 tsp of flour and frying in an oiled pan as you would a pancake. Cut pancakes in half, pop some noodle salad in and roll up and serve with sweet soy sauce for dipping. My family loved these as something different for our roadside picnic with which we also had fresh nectarines and I had baked some brownies to have with our bought coffee.