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 and 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 in 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 (Toppings)
Somen salad is a versatile dish, 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 sticks
- Fresh ginger
- Wood ear mushroom
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)
- 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.
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!
Soak the wood ear mushrooms
Wood ear mushrooms are generally sold in their dried form and need to be rehydrated. It generally takes about 15-30 minutes to soak them, use lukewarm water and wait for them to soften up. Some people like to soak them for 2 hours or more, but I find about 20 minutes is just fine.
Once they're rehydrated you can cut them into thin strips for your salad.
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 also makes for good 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 contract between each ingredient.
Finally, top the somen salad with your homemade sesame dressing and mix well before eating!Print