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Vietnamese Style Soba Noodle Salad

October 17, 2013

Vietnamese Style Soba Noodle Salad with Baked Peanut TofuPin it!

In just the past year or two, I’ve gone from feeling disgusted (slash indifferent) toward cabbage to actually craving it and designing recipes around it.

I blame it on all the delicious cabbage-packed shrimp tacos I’ve been eating in California, which have done what Japan’s cabbage side salads with mayonnaise and corn* could never do: convinced me that cabbage can actually be tempting and tasty!

Since our 80 degree days have persisted into October, we’ve been eating summery salads and as many no-cook (or barely-cook) dinners as we can. In the barely-cook category, I’d been wanting to pair soba noodles and cabbage together for a while, to create something crunchy and refreshing, yet still hearty and substantial.

Vietnamese Style Soba Noodle Salad with Baked Peanut TofuPin it!

I even asked Paula if she’d eat a soba noodle salad that had slivered cabbage and pomegranate seeds, but she said no.

Ingredients for Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu

So there went that idea… Instead I made something we’ve been hooked on since earlier this summer: Vietnamese Bún Chay. But with Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles instead of the traditional rice noodle vermicelli. And it’s no longer way too hot in my apartment to ever turn the oven on, so I topped the bowls with a peanutty baked tofu (for extra heartiness).

Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu and Nuoc Cham SaucePin it!

I was excited to try out the baked tofu recipe from The Kitchn. The verdict? Definitely not quite as crispy as the photos had led me to believe—and certainly not as crispy as if it were fried—but then again I also didn’t bother to coat the tofu in cornstarch…

Making Baked Peanut Tofu for Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay)

Even though I like this recipe enough to share it with you (which, believe me, is saying something!) I have to admit that the texture of the tofu was not as crispy as it could have been. So another option besides baking would be to (press out the water and cube it, then) lightly coat each cube of tofu in cornstarch before frying them in small batches (2-3 min. each side), in a shallow dish filled with hot sunflower oil that is deep enough to come about halfway up the side of each tofu cube.

Chopping Cabbage for Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu

(That style of one-side-at-a-time, nothing-fully-submerged deep-frying is just about the only kind I can choose to handle.)

Ingredients for Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu

After all that time and effort deep-frying, you could either coat them in a peanut sauce modeled after the marinade below, or skip the peanut-flavored-ness of the tofu altogether, because your tofu will be crispy, crunchy, and… well, deep-fried.

Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu and Nuoc Cham SaucePin it!

The healthier (and easier!) option is of course to bake your tofu; and the peanut butter marinade does keep things interesting.

Making Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut TofuPin it!

One nice surprise about this dish—especially if you’re not as much of a Vietnamese rice noodle bowl addict as I am—is the lovely temperature contrast. Since the noodles are served at room temperature, or even slightly chilled, bún chay is like a giant salad—a spring roll in a bowl: crunchy, bright, and refreshing. Once you add the warm peanut tofu on top, you have a meal.

Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu and Nuoc Cham Sauce

Not that it has to be tofu; at restaurants, I often order Vietnamese rice vermicelli bowls with either grilled shrimp or egg rolls on top (or shrimp cakes, if they’re available).

Making Nuoc Cham Sauce for Vietnamese Style Soba Noodle Salad (Bun Chay)

Earlier this summer, when the oven was out of the question, and nothing sounded quite as delicious as a restaurant-style warm eggroll-adorned rice noodle bowl, Paula and I even topped our bowls of bún vermicelli with warm chicken dumplings (sadly, not homemade).

Making Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu

It may sound strange (and it was) to add potstickers to a bowl of rice noodles, but in lieu of eggrolls, it works. And it’s a lot easier than dealing with the total-submersion style of deep-frying at home—I’ll save that for the restaurants.

Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu and Nuoc Cham Sauce

Bún chay is also a great way to use up all of your vegetables! Try tossing in whatever you have: not just cabbage (or lettuce) and bean sprouts but also juienned carrots, daikon, cucumbers, or sweet bell peppers.

Chopped Cabbage for Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu

Then bust out your biggest bowls and fill them up with crunchy goodness, and perhaps fewer noodles than you think you might need: this light, summery meal can be incredibly filling—even without the tofu.

Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu and Nuoc Cham SaucePin it!

* I know I’ve boldly claimed before that “everything is delicious in Japan,” but what I really meant was “everything is delicious in Japan except for the ubiquitous cabbage side salads with mayonnaise and corn.”

Print this recipe. (PDF)


Vietnamese Style Soba Noodle Salad (Bún Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu

(Serves 2)

~ 4-6 oz. dried soba noodles (or vermicelli rice noodles)
~ 1-2 cups cold water
~ 1-2 slices of cabbage, thinly sliced (or crunchy greens like iceberg lettuce)
~ handful of bean sprouts
~ ⅓ cup cashews (or peanuts), roughly chopped
~ ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
~ several sprigs fresh mint, chopped
~ 2-3 scallions, diced
~ sliced, pickled carrots or daikon radish
~ other julienned crunchy vegetables, such as red bell pepper

For the Baked Peanut Tofu:
(Adapted from The Kitchn.)
~ 8 oz. extra firm tofu
~ 1½-2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
~ 2 Tbsp. water
~ 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
~ 1 clove garlic, minced
~ dash of chili powder

For the Nuoc Cham Sauce:
(Adapted from the Lemongrass and Ginger Cookbook by Leemei Tan.)
~ juice of 2 limes
~ 1 tsp. sugar
~ 1 red bird’s eye chili, seeds discarded, thinly sliced or diced
~ 2 tsp. fish sauce (or 1 tsp. soy sauce and pinch of salt, to make vegan)

How to make it:

1. Place tofu in a dish on a paper towel with another dish (or two) on top to weight it down, and allow the excess water to be pressed out of it for 10-15 min.

2. Make the tofu marinade: Combine the peanut butter and water and microwave for several seconds (or warm in a small saucepan on the stovetop) until peanut butter is soft enough to stir into the water and dissolve. Then stir in soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, and chili powder. Cut tofu into cubes and gently toss to coat it in the peanut butter marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, then bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes, turning the tofu cubes 2-3 times.

Making Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut TofuDicing chili pepper for Nuoc Cham sauce

3. While the tofu is baking, make the Nuoc Cham sauce: In a small bowl, combine the lime juice and sugar, and stir to mix well. Add the chili and fish sauce, mix well, and set aside.

4. When the tofu is close to being done, make the noodles: Bring water in a large saucepan to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium-high and add the soba noodles. When it starts to boil over, pour in 1 cup cold water, and stir (no need to adjust the burner if you catch it in time). Cook soba for 5-6 minutes total; the second time it starts to boil over, either add more cold water (if noodles don’t seem done yet), or turn off the burner and drain. Rinse noodles with cold running water. (Or, for rice vermicelli noodles, cook according to package directions, usually for 3-5 min., then drain and rinse with cold running water.)

Making Baked Peanut Tofu for Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay)Ingredients for Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut Tofu

5. Assemble noodle bowls: Place cabbage and bean sprouts in the bottom of each bowl. Top with cold soba noodles. Top noodles with fresh herbs, cashews, and warm baked tofu. Then serve immediately, pouring half of the nuoc cham noodle sauce over each bowl.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut TofuPin it!

Vietnamese Style Soba (Bun Chay) with Baked Peanut TofuPin it!

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2013 9:01 am

    Wow that looks delicious. Great photos. I know what it’s like to hate something then start to love it. I was like that with olives for a while.

    • October 17, 2013 9:08 am

      Thanks! That’s funny, I am still lukewarm with olives (they’re usually too salty for me), but I’m more open to them than my fiancee Paula is—she hates them! If we both started loving them someday, then we could braise them in tagines and bake them into focaccia… :)

      • October 17, 2013 9:13 am

        LOL and then send them to me!

      • October 17, 2013 9:16 am

        Oh my god, you don’t even know: I actually wish I could!!! :) We have a tall skinny jar full of Spanish manzanilla olives stuffed with pimentos in our fridge that I bought to put out on the table at a tapas party we had like two months ago (but we made so much other good food that day, the olives were barely touched!). The only reason we aren’t throwing it away is because the olives are perfectly good, and we keep intending to offer the jar to friends who stop by so we can give it away to a good home, but we keep forgetting to do that!

  2. October 17, 2013 9:04 am

    Oh my, I can’t wait to try this!! I’ve never had Vietnamese food before (shame on me), but I am making this!!

    • October 17, 2013 9:11 am

      Oh wow! You HAVE to try this then! (And maybe even with rice vermicelli noodles instead of soba, the actually-Vietnamese way…) Paula had never had Vietnamese food before she met me (but I love it of course), and our first real date was at a Vietnamese restaurant. She now asks if I feel like going to that restaurant like once a week!

  3. October 17, 2013 9:09 am

    I really like this idea for the peanut butter marinade for the baked tofu! I will have to give that a try. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • October 17, 2013 9:13 am

      Thanks for commenting!

      The marinade was definitely a success, even if the baked tofu was less crispy than when I’ve (half-)deep-fried it… But yes, because this tofu was easier and healthier than frying it—and the peanut butter really added a lot of flavor!—I will be making this baked peanut tofu many more times in the future. :)

  4. October 17, 2013 10:25 am

    bun is what dw usually orders when we go out for vietnamese, the hot + cold + sweet + salty combination really appeals to him. i’m not the biggest fan of cabbage, i like it sparingly, but i will say that i like it better than bean sprouts. i think the use of soba noodles is great in this dish.

    • October 17, 2013 2:33 pm

      Bun is actually only my third-favorite thing to order in a Vietnamese restaurant (after a laksa-like curry and pho ga), but since Vietnamese restaurants are the type of restaurant that I visit the most often, I still get to eat it a lot!

      I never used to be the biggest fan of cabbage, so I have no idea why it suddenly started appealing to me like crazy… it’s crunchy, watery (in a good way), actually flavorful (I NEVER would have said that a year ago), and even a little sweet. Definitely better than bean sprouts; on that we’re agreed. :) Let me know if DW thinks soba would be good in this, too!

  5. October 17, 2013 12:17 pm

    I think I might be the only one who prefers baked tofu to fried! I think I like the denser texture? I don’t love the pillowy squishy inside of fried tofu… Then again, I may not have had it prepared well.

    This looks delicious! I’ve been meaning to cook more with soba noodles.

    • October 17, 2013 2:39 pm

      Interesting! It does have a denser texture when baked, which is nice in its own way, I suppose… I’ve been talking about liking the texture of fried tofu more than baked, but you made me realize that’s because I was entirely focused on the texture of the OUTside of fried tofu… although I kind of enjoy the sponge-y inside, too… :)

      Anyway, I can still understand not liking it, but have you ever had store-bought already-fried tofu? (…that hasn’t been frozen or freezer-burned and then defrosted…) Like the ready-made “tofu puffs” sold at Asian markets for use in SE Asian coconut milk curries or laksas? Because those are pretty awesome, texture-wise (yet still a blank canvas, flavor-wise). I used to buy those sporadically, and only recently started frying my own tofu at home.

  6. October 17, 2013 1:33 pm

    Cabbage is such a hard vegetable to incorporate into your everyday meals, but this definitely helps and it looks delicious! Thanks for sharing– I can’t wait to try this recipe!

    • October 17, 2013 2:43 pm

      Thanks, Tess! I used to think that about cabbage as well, but now we can get through a whole head of cabbage over the course of a week or so, before it goes bad! (Not that we buy one every week; just every once in a while…)

      One reason it’s easy for us to use up is because Paula and I both enjoy having bits of raw, crunchy cabbage added to salads or noodle salads like this one, AND because we make tacos quite a bit! We always have corn tortillas around and we add cabbage to our avocado chicken tacos. Cabbage also works well added to stir-fries, vegetable noodle dishes (like Korean jap chae), or fried rice dishes (like kimchi fried rice).

  7. October 17, 2013 6:51 pm

    Just had this for Dinner, so good. Took your advice to make the tofu solo (I baked it) & used the peanut sauce to dress the cabbage, carrots, noodles, tofu, toasted cashews–heaven! Just the inspiration I needed today, thanks. :)

    • October 17, 2013 7:35 pm

      Awesome! Your comment made my day. :)

      And that way of making it sounds really good, too! I’ll have to try that sometime. It seems like it’d probably take less time since you don’t have to make the peanut sauce/marinate the tofu before just sticking in the oven… so I’m assuming you got your whole dinner assembled in just the time it took to bake the tofu! Nice.

  8. bitsofnice permalink
    October 17, 2013 9:34 pm

    This looks delicious and so fresh!

  9. October 17, 2013 10:56 pm

    i love me some bun, dude. i always go bun ba nun or bun bo hue (although i must admit, i have to agree that pho ga is always a solid choice).

    i’m sorry japan’s mediocre cabbage side salads ruined your love of cabbage, although i totally understand. i do my best to avoid them. honestly, i don’t like mayo or corn that much, so i never quite understood the allure either.

    as always, great work allison.

    • October 18, 2013 11:47 am

      Ah, see, I don’t eat beef, so I’ve never tried those variants of bun, but I love me some bun, too, so I’m sure they are tasty.

      No need to apologize to me on behalf of Japan’s mediocre cabbage salads! Don’t worry; I won’t hold those against you, even though you live there. :)

      I always did my best to avoid those salads, too, but sometimes it was surprisingly difficult! Like every time my (Canadian) friend and I went to the one and only Indian restaurant in our little town in Yamaguchi-ken, the restaurant owner/waiter wanted to bond with us over being foreigners (or… loyal customers, I guess) and he’d either give us cabbage salads or chai, on the house! So then you’re pretty much obligated to eat it…

  10. October 18, 2013 2:32 am

    Loved it :)

  11. October 18, 2013 4:23 am

    This salad is gorgeous. It makes me want to go to my favourite Vietnamese place in Toronto – whenever I go back for a visit, I head to this restaurant directly from the airport, suitcase and all…

    • October 18, 2013 11:50 am

      Thanks! I totally have restaurants like that, too. (And I have “last meal” restaurants that I end up choosing every time I’m on my way to the airport… like I go to one specific Vietnamese restaurant in Santa Barbara for my last meal every time before I visit Japan, since I know it’s the last cilantro I’ll be able to get for a while.)

  12. walgenbe permalink
    October 19, 2013 9:31 am

    So yummy! I made this for dinner the other night (as soon as you posted it), but I didn’t have time to make he tofu so just made it as a salad. Thaks for all the awesome inspiration! Also, if you have any little aramanth, it looks ridiculously pretty. That’s me taking a page from Heidi Swanson, but I found some in whole foods and have been putting it on everything!

    • October 24, 2013 9:08 am

      Awesome, I’m glad you tried making it already! That’s some quick recipe inspiration turn-around. :)

      And thanks for the tip about amaranth! I’ve never tried it (or seen it in stores around here, but then again, I avoid Whole Foods, just to be on the safe side, budget-wise…).

  13. October 19, 2013 6:19 pm

    Looks so delicious! I’m always looking for delicious things to take to work for lunch. And this is perfect.

    • October 24, 2013 9:10 am

      Thanks, Michelle. Yes, this would make a great lunch. I’d just keep your nuoc cham separate from the rest until just before eating, so your noodles don’t get too soggy (especially if you’re using rice vermicelli rather than soba). The nice thing is, it all tastes great chilled/at room temperature, so no re-heating needed at lunch time!

  14. October 20, 2013 11:00 am

    wow, lunch could become an event, again. Thanks for sharing, and your photography is just lovely, too.

  15. October 21, 2013 10:41 am

    So happy I happened upon this! Soba noodles are my new favorite thing! This looks amazing, and not at all intimidating to try! :)

    • October 24, 2013 9:11 am

      Nice! I love soba noodles, too! (My fiancee Paula is less enthusiastic, so we don’t have them very often, but she still enjoyed them in this!)

  16. October 29, 2013 1:26 pm

    I have all the ingredients, my “cabbage time” is definitively started. I’m going to make it for dinner!

  17. October 30, 2013 1:06 am

    It’s like this recipe answers every single disjointed craving I’ve been having this week and turns it into something delicious, coherent, and easy!! Definitely making this tonight. Thanks!

    • October 31, 2013 8:51 am

      Yay, I’m so glad to hear it—hope you enjoyed it! That’s actually a good description for this type of spring-roll-in-a-bowl rice vermicelli meal: “every single disjointed craving, in a bowl!”

  18. October 31, 2013 11:54 am

    Thanks for your sweet comments on my blog, Allison! I’m glad to have found you on the blogosphere. That tofu is such a good idea—I would’ve thought they were deep-fried if I hadn’t read the recipe title! I imagine the texture contrast is wonderful in this noodle salad.

    • November 7, 2013 9:15 am

      Thank you, Irina! Your blog is beautiful. And I’m quite sure we share very similar tastes in food… :)

      I know, the advantage of baking tofu is that it’s a hands-off (and less oily) way to get nearly the same texture as with deep-frying—emphasis on the *nearly* though… Either way, I do love the texture and temperature contrast in this dish!


  1. Warm Soba (Buckwheat Noodles) salad with soy-lime dressing | Superfoodista

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