Learn how to make this colourful somen salad made with thin Japanese somen noodles topped with sliced vegetables, imitation crab and a rich and creamy homemade sesame dressing with a hint of wasabi!
What is somen salad?
With a somewhat deceiving name, "somen salad" is a noodle dish (rather than strictly a salad dish) made with a type of thin Japanese noodle called "somen". The noodles are then topped with various thinly sliced vegetables, egg crepe, crab, kamaboko (Japanese fish cake) or ham and served in a vinegar based sauce.
Somen salad is actually a Hawaiian-Japanese fusion dish and is not widely eaten in Japan. Instead of somen we usually opt for ramen noodles and have an almost identical dish called "hiyashi chuka" (also known as "cold ramen salad" in English).
Whether it's ramen or somen, these refreshing noodle "salads" are served cold and a popular to eat in the summer.
While vinegar-based dressings are the the norm because they're sour and refreshing, I decided to create a completely different dressing for my recipe, toasted sesame dressing with wasabi! The creamy texture with a spicy kick from the wasabi gives a whole different feeling to the dish. (If you'd prefer to use the vinegar based on you can use the sauce I made for my hiyashi chuka recipe.)
What are somen noodles?
Somen are thin Japanese noodles made by adding salt water to wheat flour, then kneading, oiling, and stretching it into thin strips. It is mostly bought in a dry form and then boiled, the most common ways to eat are "nagashi somen" (flowing noodles) or chilled somen with dipping sauce.
These pure white, delicate noodles served with a refreshing sauce are a light and easy meal option, perfect for the hot and humid summers in Japan! The fact that they only take a few minutes to cook also means less time in the kitchen, no-one wants to be sweating over the stove in summer! If you want to know more about somen noodles, you can check out my chilled chicken and citrus somen noodle soup recipe, where I talk about somen noodles in more depth.
Ingredients to make somen salad
Somen salad is a versatile dish, so other than the essential somen noodles, you can pretty much top it with whatever you like! The ingredients are finely sliced so that they can be easily mixed in with the noodles. I personally use the following:
- Somen noodles (dry)
- Imitation crab
- Fresh ginger
- Wood ear mushrooms
It's a good idea to use a colourful array of ingredients for presentation purposes, whilst also thinking about various textures to keep the dish interesting. See some more suggestions below!
Because it's still a salad-like dish, you can add your favourite ingredients to create the perfect somen salad to suit your personal tastes! For inspiration, you can refer to the list below:
- Boiled eggs (instead of "kinshi tamago" egg crepe)
- Cooked chicken breast
- Boiled shrimps
- Tinned tuna
- Broccoli sprouts
But these are just ideas! Feel free to customise the somen salad however you like!
How to make my somen salad dressing/sauce
So, as I mentioned before, I serve my somen salad with a creamy toasted sesame and wasabi dressing instead of the more commonly used soy sauce and vinegar based sour dressing. I like to make the sauce first so it has a bit of time to chill in the fridge while I prepare the rest of the dish.
First, here are the ingredients:
See recipe card below for quantities.
Toast the sesame seeds
To get the most flavour out of your sesame seeds, I recommend toasting them for a few minutes in a dry frying pan on a medium-high heat. This step releases the aroma of the sesame seeds for a more intense nutty flavour.
Once the sesame seeds are slightly golden and you can smell the toasted sesame aroma, you can take them off the heat. It only takes a few minutes! Be sure to shake the pan from time to time, this will help the sesame seeds toast more evenly and help prevent burning.
Grind the sesame seeds to a powder
In Japan, ground sesame seeds are called "surigoma" (すりごま). You can buy them already ground or grind them yourself! I use my trusty "suribachi" (mortar) and "surikogi" (pestle) which you can purchase on Amazon. You could also use a pepper mill or coffee grinder. Generally food processors are a bit too big for this unless you're making a large batch.
Mix and chill
Finally, mix the ground sesame seeds with the other sauce ingredients and then store in the refrigerator until it's time to serve.
Add the wasabi to taste, I find that 1 tsp is plenty but you can add more or less depending on your preference. If you don't like wasabi, simply leave it out.
Instructions on how to make somen salad
Somen salad doesn't require much cooking, but it does need quite a lot of prep. I'll go through the process step by step!
Make "Kinshi Tamago" (Japanese egg crepe)
The wafer-thin Japanese egg crepe cut into thin strips blends in perfectly with the noodles, to make it, follow these steps:
If you don't want to make kinshi tamago, you can also use boiled egg, fried egg or omit egg altogether!
Julienne the vegetables
Julienne is a cutting technique where the ingredients are sliced into short thin strips. It's a little time-consuming, but it's necessary for this dish so that the ingredients are easily mixed in with the noodles. It's also great for presentation!
The only exceptions here are the tomatoes (thinly sliced) and the imitation crab, which I shred using a fork.
Boil and cool the somen
Somen is one of the quickest noodles to cook, generally they only take about 2 minutes! Of course, check the packaging to be sure.
Once cooked, drain the water by pouring the noodles into a sieve over the sink. Quickly cool them and holt the cooking process by rinsing them under cold running water, this will also remove any excess starch.
Finally, place some ice on the noodles to help make them extra cold! I recommend leaving them in the sieve over a large bowl so that the excess water can drain out.
Take your serving dish and place the noodles at the bottom. Arrange the toppings so that everything is pointing towards the middle, try and keep similar colours apart so that there's more contrast between each ingredient.
Finally, top the somen salad with your homemade sesame dressing and mix well before eating!
I hope you enjoy this flavourful and rich take on summery somen salad! If you try the recipe, be sure to let me know what you thought in the comments below!
Somen Salad with Japanese Sesame Dressing
- 1 medium egg(s)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 drizzle cooking oil
- ½ tomato(s)
- 25 g fresh wood ear mushroom(s) - boiled and sliced
- ½ Japanese or Persian cucumber(s)
- ¼ carrot(s)
- 5 g fresh ginger
- 20 g imitation crab(s) - or ham/kamaboko (or plant-based alternative)
- 2 tbsp tinned sweetcorn
- 200 g dry somen noodles
- ice cubes - optional
- Place a dry frying pan on the stove and turn on the heat to medium-high. Add 4 tbsp white toasted sesame seeds and toast until you can smell the aroma and they've turned lightly golden.
- Transfer the sesame seeds to a mortar and pestle (or a pepper mill etc) and grind to a fine powder.
- Add the ground sesame seeds, 4 tbsp Japanese mayonnaise, 2 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp sesame oil and 1 tsp wasabi paste in a container and mix thoroughly. Chill in the fridge until it's time to serve.
- Heat a frying pan on medium-low and coat with 1 drizzle cooking oil using a paper towel to spread evenly and remove the excess.
- While it's heating, whisk 1 medium egg(s) in a bowl with 1 pinch salt.
- Pour the whisked egg through a sieve to make it smooth.
- Pour a thin layer of egg into the pan (you might need to do this in batches if your pan is small) and fry until 80% cooked.
- Peel the egg out of the pan, roll and cut into thin slices.
- Thinly slice 25 g fresh wood ear mushroom(s) and ½ tomato(s). Peel and julienne ¼ carrot(s) and 5 g fresh ginger. Julienne ½ Japanese or Persian cucumber(s) with the skin still on and use a fork to shred 20 g imitation crab(s). Drain 2 tbsp tinned sweetcorn.
- Boil 200 g dry somen noodles according to the instructions on the packaging. (Approx 2 minutes.)
- Pour the noodles through a sieve and rinse with cold running water to halt the cooking process and cool them quickly. Place some ice cubes in there to chill them further.
- Place the chilled noodles on a serving plate and arrange the vegetables and imitation crab on top.
- Drizzle with the homemade sesame dressing.
- Mix thoroughly before eating and enjoy!