Strawberry Noodle Salad

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If the thought of noodles, strawberries and walnuts together in a salad renders you speechless, you’re not alone. Most people who try this salad for the first time do a double-take when they see it but their reticence is quickly replaced by delight when they bite into this deliciously refreshing, albeit unusual, salad. The flavour of the strawberries are coaxed out gently with the use of the balsamic and the noodles and walnuts provide a hearty crunch that elevates a pedestrian salad to new levels of yummyness!

If there was ever a time to enjoy seasonally fresh strawberries, it’s right now. When shopping for strawberries, choose ones that are bright red and firm and ones that are locally grown. Strawberries don’t ripen after they are picked so they should be at the peak of freshness when picked. Choosing a locally grown variety will ensure the freshest, sweetest strawberries are being delivered quickly from the farm to your table.

As delicious as they are, they are also a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of sliced strawberries delivers more than a day’s worth of vitamin C and is a good source of fibre and manganese which maintains healthy bones and helps regulate blood sugar. They are crazy high in antioxidants, and, according to a recent study conducted by Harvard U, they can cut the risk of heart attack in women by one-third as they help dilate arteries and prevent the build-up of fatty plaque.

There are so many ways — and reasons! — to enjoy this delicious little fruit, and what better way to showcase the strawberry — in all its lovely glory — than in this quintessential summer salad!

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I prefer to shell my own walnuts because I find they taste fresher than walnuts that have been pre-shelled and packaged. The shelf-life of the walnuts is longer in the shell than it is packaged, so I always keep fresh walnuts on hand for salads. If I’m using them for baking in large quantities, I prefer to use the packaged variety for obvious reasons, but when I’m using it for a salad and the walnuts will be consumed without the benefit of being baked inside a sweet confection, I prefer to have them as fresh as humanly possible!

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I use romaine lettuce because of its gorgeous green colour and because it can hold up to dressing better than, say, a leafy green or boston lettuce. If you prefer, you can use any variety besides romaine but avoid iceberg lettuce which has a muted green flavour – and little nutritional value – as the colours won’t come alive on the plate as they do with a darker green lettuce. 

DSC_0081 DSC_0086Allow the walnuts and noodles to toast gently for 8-10 minutes to get a beautiful golden colour and to enhance the crunchy quality of this salad. The noodle/walnut mixture should be cooled after cooking and before being added to the fresh ingredients to prevent the fresh ingredients from wilting.

DSC_0091This salad needs to be served immediately after it’s dressed as the leaves will naturally begin to wilt as they marinate in the dressing. I often prepare this salad in the morning and set the the noodle/walnut mixture aside at room temperature, combine the lettuce, strawberries, cucumber and green onions in an airtight bowl and refrigerate them, and refrigerate the dressing in a small bowl and refrigerate it. Come dinner time, all I have to do is combine all the ingredients in under 2 minutes and serve it!

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Strawberry Noodle Salad 

1 package (3 ounces)     ramen noodles (I used the ‘Mr. Noodle’ brand)
3/4 cup     chopped walnuts (freshly shelled or packaged)
1/4 cup     unsalted butter
1/4 cup     granulated sugar
1/4 cup     canola oil
2 tablespoons     balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon     soy sauce
8 cups     torn romaine lettuce (about one small-medium bunch of romaine)
1/2 cup     scallions/green onions, chopped
2 cups     fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2     cucumber, chopped (optional)

Remove the noodles from the packaging and discard the flavour/seasoning packet (or set it aside and save it for another use). Break the noodles into small pieces by crushing them with the palm of your hand. In a large skillet, add the butter. Allow the butter to melt for a few seconds then add the noodles and chopped walnuts and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Set the pan aside to cool.

Prepare the dressing by whisking the sugar, canola oil, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. In a large bowl combine the romaine, green onions, strawberries, cucumber (if using) and the cooled noodle mixture. Just before serving, drizzle with dressing and toss gently. Serve immediately.

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