Spicy Peanut Cabbage Salad

So last week I announced that the Blog Was Back in Town, Instagram pals want recipes, I've got free time, etc. etc. And to christen this re-born site, I brought you a really beautiful loaf of bread. It truly was too beautiful and too soft not to share, but now that I've gotten that out of my system, how about something that might actually be useful to you?

Ramen Noodle Salad had its 15 minutes of Pinterest fame a couple years ago, so you can find endless variations of this dish with a quick Google search. Don't write it off as a silly food fad, though—this one's a keeper:

  • With protein add-ins like tofu, chicken, and/or edamame, this is a filling meal (even for those of us who shed a melodramatic tear at the idea of Salad For Dinner) and is easily made vegetarian or vegan

  • If you aren't already on the cabbage train, get on board! Cabbage makes an amazing salad base (and more) and will stay fresh in your fridge for a couple weeks—making it especially handy if you are only grocery shopping every 10+ days. Plus, a single head of cabbage goes a shockingly long way, making it a cost-effective staple.

  • Remember when we used to pack lunches? Eventually we will again, and this is a perfect make-ahead lunch in a jar. The dressed salad is good for days; just pack the noodles and nuts separately if you want them to stay crunchy (or keep them mixed in if you still like them soft, like I do!)

  • This. Spicy. Peanut. Dressing. is amazing here but goes so far beyond salads. I use it as a dip for dumplings, a marinade for chicken, a glaze on salmon... Seriously, if you're not feeling this salad, just make the dressing and put it on something/anything.

Ingredient Notes

Protein: I like this salad with tofu but it's great with chopped or shredded chicken breasts or thighs, too. I've also omitted the tofu and served it with a filet of salmon on top (with extra peanut dressing brushed on the salmon while broiling).

Speaking of tofu: I like to buy pre-baked tofu blocks as a time saver, eliminating draining and baking the tofu prior to browning in a skillet. Trader Joe's sells baked tofu in two flavor profiles (sriracha and teriyaki) and I love both. Either can be used in this salad to punch up the flavor, but unflavored will work fine too as the dressing packs its own punch. If using unbaked tofu, definitely get an extra firm variety. Here's a helpful post on draining and baking it.

Nuts!: Almonds, peanuts, cashews all work here. I used salted almonds, so if using an unsalted nut, you may want to sprinkle a little salt on prior to toasting in the oven.

Cabbage: I could continue to extol this humble crucifer (e.g. slow-caramelized cabbage spun into mac and cheese!) but I'll save that for another day. I find slicing cabbage really thin with a good knife to be therapeutic, but you could also use a mandoline, the slicing blade in a food processor, or just buy a package of "slaw mix" which will likely include the carrot, too! One medium head of cabbage sliced thin will yield 8 cups (!), give or take.

Optional Mix-Ins: Use whatever you like! I usually make this with edamame to bump up the protein content; Trader Joe's (often) sells a really handy package of frozen, shelled soybeans. I also like adding slivered yellow and/or red bell peppers for visual interest and more textural variety.

Fridge Door Items: Soy sauce and sriracha are must-haves, but I also highly recommend stocking hoisin sauce and seasoned rice vinegar. They are easily found in most grocery stores (although your local Asian market could probably use some love right now) and will keep for a long time. If you are going to omit them, sub in an additional teaspoon of soy sauce plus a tablespoon of brown sugar for the hoisin, and try lime juice or white wine vinegar for the rice vinegar.

Stop the (Garlic) Presses: We can all agree that traditional garlic presses are SUPER annoying, right? For minced garlic I either use a knife or this ingenious garlic "rocker", but when I'm using uncooked garlic (most often in salad dressings), I grate the clove using a microplane or zester, which guarantees the garlic will be evenly distributed and mitigates the sharp, raw taste.

What other tasty mix-ins am I forgetting? Should we try a spicy peanut cocktail next? Let me know.

Spicy Peanut Cabbage Salad
Makes 2 large entree salads or 4 side salads

Salad Ingredients (* see notes above)
  • 1 package baked tofu* (7-10 ounces)
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 package ramen noodles
  • 1/3 cup sliced or chopped almonds*
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage* (purple or green or a mix of the two)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 3-4 green onions, light and dark green parts, sliced
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • Optional mix-in ideas: sliced bell pepper, cooked edamame, shredded broccoli, mandarin orange slices—if it sounds good to you and you have it on hand, toss it in!
  • Optional garnish: additional sesame seeds and/or green onions, a squeeze of lime juice
Dressing Ingredients (* see notes above)
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce*
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar*
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (omit to make vegan)
  • 1-4+ tsp sriracha, to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, grated* or minced (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or 1 tsp dried ginger)
  • Water, to thin as needed


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice tofu into small, bite-sized pieces. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat sesame oil until it shimmers. Add tofu and brown on all sides. To minimize sticking, first make sure all the pieces of tofu are coated in oil and then let them brown for 2 minutes, undisturbed, before flipping them, to allow a crust to form. Continue until most pieces are evenly browned and remove from pan onto a paper towel-lined plate.

Break up ramen noodles into bite-sized pieces; place noodles and chopped almonds on a baking pan. (Discard ramen seasoning packet or save it for a rainy day!) Toast in the 400F oven for 7-10 minutes until starting to brown, stirring once or twice during the baking time. Remove from oven and set aside.

To make dressing, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and sriracha (start with a smaller amount), garlic, and ginger in the bowl of a small food processor. Process until smooth. Taste, and add more sriracha for more spice and/or more soy sauce for more salt. At this point it should be an ideal dip consistency. To thin, add water gradually and process to combine, about 1-2 tablespoons for salad dressing. (And of course you don't need a food processor, although it makes it easier! If whisking by hand, gradually add one liquid at a time into the peanut butter in order to blend everything smoothly.)

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, green onions, noodles, almonds, tofu, sesame seeds, and any other mix-ins you have. Toss with dressing and garnish with more scallions and sesame seeds; serve with a lime wedge for squeezing!