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By JEFF THAL, Talking Fresh
Peanut butter and sesame noodles combine with bean sprouts in this hefty salad, served cold.
* Peanut butter and sesame noodles combine with bean sprouts in this hefty salad, served cold.
Even though there’s 3 inches of snow on the ground as I write this, it’s still important to do whatever we can to cook with fresh and healthy ingredients.
Today I’m making a salad. Not a traditional one, but rather a cold, main-dish pasta salad that’s loaded with nutrition and flavor. It’s a salad that has been drawing raves for more than 30 years. I call the dish “Vicki’s Noodles,” named for a long-time friend from another time in my life (and she’s still a friend–thanks to Facebook. HI, VICKI!).
The dish is a peanut butter and sesame noodle salad, a bit like Pad Thai, but easier to make, and served at room temperature. The essentials of the dish are noodles, sauce and fresh bean sprouts.
I’m enamored of fresh bean sprouts, which we make ourselves right in the kitchen. They’re tasty and nutritious; and easy and fun to grow — watch them grow right on your kitchen counter (a great winter project for the kids). Also, when you grow your own, you ensure their freshness; you get them at the peak of crispness and flavor. Just eat up what you make within a day or two.
Simply put, sprouts can be made in two to five days from beans, soaked overnight, and rinsed and drained twice a day. For complete instructions, see my blog (www.chefzillaskitchen.typepad.com); browse at www.sproutpeople.org; or type “making bean sprouts” into your favorite search engine.
I usually make the dish as outlined below, but I have also included chopped snow peas or sugar snap peas, which we grow in our garden. We’ve also added slices of grilled chicken or flank steak; or with cubes of premium dry tofu, lightly grilled. Play with it and see what you like. There’s almost no ingredient you could add that wouldn’t make it better.
The sauce is sweet and tangy, but it doesn’t get in the way of additional ingredients. You also can give it a note of Thai by adding some fresh chopped basil and a bit of fish sauce. This recipe has just a hint of heat, but if you like your food spicy (as I do), simply increase the amount of hot chili oil, or add a teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes to the sauce.
As for the noodles, I’ve most recently been using protein-enhanced linguine. But you can also make it with whole wheat or Asian buckwheat noodles, rice noodles, spaghetti or whatever pasta you prefer.
Finally, a word or two about peanut butter. Good, healthy peanut butter is one of nature’s perfect foods. Emphasis here on “good, healthy.” Most store-bought peanut butters are loaded with extra ingredients, such as salt, sugar, honey, emulsifiers, chemicals, palm oil or coconut oil (and what’s with THAT???–not enough oil from the peanuts???). But I’m here to report there is a product out there that really is peanut butter the way God intended it to be. Peanuts. Mashed up into a paste. No artificial anything. Not even salt (and what other food manufacturer can survive in the marketplace without adding salt). Here it is:
Crazy Richard’s peanut butter.
They make it creamy and crunchy. And Oh, what a product. Read the label. Ingredients: peanuts. PERIOD! No nothing else. And the creamy? Man, oh man, is it creamy! Sure it’s got some oil at the top, and I hear from folks all the time that they won’t buy peanut butter with oil at the top. Huh? Peanuts have oil. Get over it. Just don’t buy a product that adds other oily stuff. Like palm oil. Or coconut oil. Or any oil. Don’t like the oil? Turn the jar upside down in you cupboard for a few days. It mostly goes away. Back into the peanuts. Or, mix it well once and put it in the fridge. I guarantee you it will spread easier than any other peanut butter kept in the fridge. Don’t want to keep it in the fridge? That’s okay too. It will just separate again. No prob. Mix it again, or turn it upside down every few days.
Think about this…the peanut butter you now use won’t separate. Why do you think that is? The manufacturer puts nasty stuff in it to keep the oil in suspension. Artificial stuff. Want that in your body? I don’t.
Crazy Richards. Peanut Butter. Available in smooth and crunchy at Giant now. If you live in the midwest, look for a brand called Krema. Same stuff, same company. Just a different brand name and label for that region of the country. And, if it’s not available where you live, check out their web site, http://www.kremaproducts.com/Crazy-Richards-Peanut-Butter/products/1/.
Best stuff on earth.
Now go make some peanut noodles, and thank Vicki for her fabulous recipe.
1 pound noodles
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot chili oil
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 finely grated carrot
1/3 cup chopped scallions (just the green tops)
Prepare the noodles al dente, according to the package. Rinse under hot, then cool running water until they reach room temperature. Toss the noodles with 2 tablespoons sesame oil and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the next six ingredients (peanut butter through chile oil) with a whisk until smooth and completely blended. Set aside at room temperature.
A half-hour before serving, combine noodles with the peanuts (reserve about 2 tablespoons), bean sprouts, cabbage, carrot and half the scallions. Add the peanut sauce and toss to coat all the ingredients with sauce. Allow to rest for a half hour, sprinkle the rest of the peanuts and scallions over the noodles, then serve.
If you plan to add chicken, steak or tofu, they can be grilled ahead of time and chilled. The noodles and the sauce can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated. If you do, allow the ingredients to return to room temperature and whisk the sauce well before combining.
Jeff Thal’s column appears every other Sunday. E-mail him at email@example.com or visit his blog at talkingfresh.typepad.com.
I call this dish “Vicki’s Noodles” because I got the recipe from an old friend named, Vicki, a nurse and confessed Jersey Girl I knew many years ago. Vicki spent some time in Southeast Asia after nursing school, when there was an unpleasant thing going on between the locals and the U.S. Army. She could cook, and was especially adept at Asian cuisine. I have several of her recipes in my notebook. This one is Cold Sesame Noodles. The ingredients beyond the sauce are completely optional. I like to use fresh, crispy bean sprouts. A chef I once worked with suggested I add red cabbage and some shredded carrot for color and texture. I liked the way that worked out, and I have also variously included chopped snow peas or sugar-snap peas, which we grow in our garden. I also often give it a note of Thai by adding some chopped basil and a teaspoonful of fish sauce. If you like meat in your salad, add grilled slices of chicken or London broil, or try it with cubes of premium dry tofu, drained and dried or lightly grilled. Play with this one and see what you like. There’s almost no ingredient you could add that would not make it better. The sauce is a nice sweet and tangy one, but it doesn’t get in the way of any kind of additional ingredient.
My peanut butter of choice is Crazy Richard’s peanut butter, because the only ingredient in the jar is peanuts. No added oil, salt, sugar, or any stabilizers. Just peanuts. It’s the best peanut butter to control the mixture of flavors, which is significant. I make the dish with whole wheat linguine, but it is just as good with Asian buckwheat noodles, rice noodles, plain spaghetti, or whatever pasta you prefer. Adjust the amount of red chile oil to your own liking. This one is not too spicy. To kick it up, increase the hot chile oil to 1 tablespoon instead of a teaspoon.
1 lb. whole-wheat linguine (or 8 oz. medium rice noodles, soaked 20 minutes in hot water)
3 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1-3 tsp dark toasted sesame-seed oil
1-3 tsp chili-sesame oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
¼ finely-chopped small red cabbage
1 finely grated carrot
1 handful FRESH (!) bean sprouts
1 bunch fresh scallions, chopped, roots discarded.
Prepare the noodles al-dente’ per the package (1-2 minutes LESS than the recommended package directions). Drain but do not rinse.
While the noodles are cooking (or soaking, if you’re using rice noodles), in a small bowl, combine the next six ingredients (peanut butter through chile oil–seven if you’re including fish sauce) with a whisk until smooth and completely blended. Add half the peanuts; the carrot, cabbage, and bean sprouts; and all but a handful of the scallions. Toss to completely coat the drained noodles and aside at room temperature.
One half hour before serving, add the protein if you use it, and toss well to coat with sauce. Allow to rest for a half hour, sprinkle the remaining peanuts and scallions over the noodles, then serve (don’t allow this to sit too long. The sauce will eventually break.)
This dish is meant to be served at room temperature. If you plan to add chicken, it should be grilled ahead of time and chilled.
I can’t believe I’ve done it.
I’ve spent the past 35 years in search of the perfect recipe for cold peanut/sesame noodle salad. I’ve tried recipes from restaurants, cookbooks, friends, enemies, the Internet…you name it, I’ve tried it. I’ve experimented with numerous methods and techniques, different types of noodles, flavor combinations native to different nationalities–Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese. I’ve tried different levels of spice and heat. I’ve experimented with the participants in cooking classes I’ve taught.
And each time there seemed to be some element of the recipe missing. I always thought: good, but not just perfect.
I think I’ve done it.
Recognizing, of course, that each of you has your own version of what’s perfect in this classic–it’s one of those recipes that you use to gauge how good an Asian restaurant is. This is one of mine.
I started my quest with my long-time friend Vicki (are you still with me, Vicki Corey? I bow in your general direction), who shared with me the basic concept of “threes.” Three tablespoons of this, that, and the other, three teaspoons of this and that. And this recipe, which I still have and which is reproduced way back in the early pages of this blog (here’s the link: https://jeffskitchen.net/?s=Vicki%27s, or search on Vicki’s Noodles), has served me extremely well. No matter where or which recipe I tried I kept coming back to this one as being as close to perfect as I had found. It even once won me a “Philly’s Best” award when I was making it for a small gourmet shop in Ardmore, PA, a place known for good food.
It’s (in my view) just the right amount of spicy/hot for everyone, but if you like it spicier/hotter, add more chili oil or some Sriracha to suit yourself. In this version of the recipe I’ll recommend specific ingredient brands, most of which are available at your local Asian grocery store.
Also, when you read my recommendation for the noodles to use, you’ll holler, “WHAT??? THAT’S NOT ASIAN!” Okay, I know that. But what are you expecting? Authentic or perfect? I’ll opt for perfect.
Try it. You’ll like it. Guaranteed!
Spicy Sesame Peanut-Noodle Salad
1 box (13.25 oz) rotini or fusilli whole wheat noodles, cooked al dente’
3 Tablespoons premium light (or dark, if you dare) soy sauce
3 Tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 Tablespoons toasted dark sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons sesame chili oil
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons Crazy Richard’s crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup chopped red cabbage
1 medium carrot, shredded fine
1/3 cup chopped green onion, divided
1/3 cup chopped peanuts, divided
½ cup FRESH(!) bean sprouts
- Whisk the next seven ingredients (soy sauce through peanut butter) until they are completely blended.
- Cook the noodles per package, 1 minute LESS than the recommended al dente’ time; drain 5-10 minutes, but DO NOT RINSE.
- Place the noodles in a large bowl, add the sauce and toss to coat all the noodles well.
- Add the cabbage, carrot, ¼ cup green onion, ¼ cup peanuts, and bean sprouts and toss again to coat all the ingredients. If you wish a more Thai flavor, add ¼ cup shredded fresh Thai basil or chopped cilantro.
- If you wish to add a protein—slices of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, or tofu, do it now.
- Allow to stand until the salad reaches room temperature.
Garnish with the remaining peanuts and green onion and serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later, but allow to return to room temperature for serving (garnish when serving).
And by the way, if you’re truly interested in an authentic Sesame Noodle salad or if you’re allergic to nuts, replace the peanut butter with tahini. And for an authentic noodle, you can use either 8 ounces medium rice noodles, or Soba or Udon noodles.
I’ve got a salad. It’s a pasta salad. It’s an incredible pasta salad. It’s a cold pasta salad with spinach and feta cheese, and it’s maybe the best cold pasta salad you’ve ever eaten (well maybe next to the cold sesame noodle salad I call “Vicki’s Noodles”, found way back earlier on this blog. In the meantime, this is the easiest salad I’ve ever made–I always make it when someone tells me to “bring a side dish,” and every time I make it, the bowl comes home empty. I made it again on the Fourth of July for a family picnic we hosted (or should I say, my sweet A hosted–it was entirely her idea), and I swear I caught someone licking the bowl. Try this one on if you’re looking for something quick and sensational:
1 bag (8 oz.) baby spinach leaves or 1/2 pound good fresh spinach, stems removed
1 lb. cheese tortellini
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup dark balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff for this recipe)
1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1. Prepare the tortellini as directed on the package. Immediately submerse the cooked pasta in ice water and
let it bathe at least a half hour. Drain the tortellini and let it sit in the colander until the pasta is really dry.
2. Wash and rinse the spinach copiously until ALL the sand is gone unless you’ve purchased fresh spinach from
the Stoner’s stand at Central Market. Their spinach is always clean and fresh. (I still wash the spinach
again, but for this recipe, I use a bag of pre-washed baby spinach leaves, and I am thoroughly satisfied.
IMMEDIATELY BEFORE SERVING (I mean this!!!):
3. Place the tortellini and spinach in a very large bowl, add the crumbled feta cheese and toss well to mix.
4. Add the balsamic vinegar and black pepper and toss again to coat the salad.
5. Then add the olive oil and toss again, to coat everything beautifully.
6. Serve immediately, and then stand out of the way. You might get knocked down in the rush.