Cold Sesame Noodle Salad Perfected
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.
Vietnamese Shrimp Spring Rolls
Morgan and her mom made these incredible spring rolls the other night for company, and they were a huge hit. I thought they were every bit as good as any I have had at a restaurant. Fact is, this is a restaurant recipe, from la Patisserie in Birmingham, Alabama, where a large Vietnamese population has resettled after the floods in New Orleans. There is a wonderful video that accompanies this recipe, for which I will post the link at the end of this recipe. Try these. You will need to find a good Asian market to get the rice wrappers, but if you haven’t found one already, you owe it to yourself to find one. Now. The one near us is wonderful, and always smells great. Very nice people, too.
Shrimp Spring Rolls
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 ounces rice vermicelli
24 baby shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
3 leaves lettuce, chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
4 teaspoons finely chopped Thai basil
- Whisk vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes together in a small bowl. Set the dipping sauce aside.
- Fill a large bowl with room temperature water. Add rice vermicelli and soak for 1 hour.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in shrimp and cook until curled and pink, about 1 minute. Remove the shrimp and drain. Or you can buy precooked baby shrimp with the tails on. Defrost and pinch off the tails. Transfer rice vermicelli noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove and drain in a colander. Immediately rinse the vermicelli with cold water, stirring to separate the noodles.
- To assemble the rolls, dip 1 rice wrapper in a large bowl of room temperature water for a few seconds to soften. Place wrapper on a work surface and top with 4 shrimp halves, 1/4 of the chopped lettuce, 1/2 ounce vermicelli, and 1/4 each of the mint, cilantro, and Thai basil. Fold right and left edges of the wrapper over the ends of the filling and roll up the spring roll. Repeat with remaining wrappers and ingredients. Cut each roll in half and serve with dipping sauce.
Makes 6 spring rolls
Servings: 1 roll, 2 tablespoons dipping sauce