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Cold Peanut Noodle Salad Perfected

I can’t believe I’ve done it.IMG_3075

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.

Until now.

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

Ingredients:

1 box (13.25 oz) rotini or fusilli whole wheat noodles, cooked al dente’

3 Tablespoons premium dark 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

Preparation:

  1. Whisk the next seven ingredients (soy sauce through peanut butter) until they are completely blended.
  2. Cook the noodles per package, 1 minute LESS than the recommended al dente’ time; drain 5-10 minutes, but DO NOT RINSE.
  3. Place the noodles in a large bowl, add the sauce and toss to coat all the noodles well.
  4. 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.
  5. If you wish to add a protein—slices of grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, or tofu, do it now.
  6. 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.

Vegetable Pad Thai — Weight-Watchers Style

Here is a vegetarian version of Pad Thai.  It is wonderful, slightly different, and tasty nonetheless.

Ingredients:

4 oz. flat rice noodles

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks

6 scallions, thinly sliced

2 Thai chili peppers or 2 teaspoons Asian red garlic-chili paste

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced fine

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

1/2 container extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped and divided

2 tablespoons unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preparation:

1.  Place noodles in a large bowl and cover with hot water; let stand until noodles are soft, about 20 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.

2.  Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add bell pepper, carrots, scallions, chili peppers, and garlic, and stir fry until the vegetables are soft, about 3 minutes.  Add fish sauce, brown sugar, and soy sauce, stir fry until the sugar dissolves, about 30 seconds.  Add noodles, sprouts, half the cilantro, and tofu.  Toss gently to mix all the ingredients and coat everything with sauce and heated through, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining cilantro and peanuts.

Serve either hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6

Serving:  1 cup

PP4

Chicken Pad Thai–Weight-Watchers Style

I have a weakness for Asian dishes, and I’m always looking to learn new ones.  Perhaps my all-time favorite Asian recipe is Pad Thai.  I can’t get enough of this dish, but traditionally, made in Thai restaurants, the calorie count is measured in the billions.  Having recently joined Weight Watchers, I now have to “skinny down” some of my faves.  What I’ll present here is an absolutely wonderful rendering of this Thai favorite, but beaten into submission.  This low calorie version has everything you could ask for in this dish, and yet has a much better PointsPlus value than traditional chicken Pad Thai recipes. It’s a great healthy meal idea to help satisfy your craving for Thai food, while still keeping you on track with Weight Watchers.

Pad Thai with Chicken

Ingredients:

6 oz chicken skinless, boneless chicken breast, chopped into bite size pieces
4 oz dried rice noodles
1/4 cup egg beaters
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup shallots, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp peanut oil
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tbsp chopped dry-roasted peanuts
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce

Instructions

1.  In a large bowl, soak rice noodles in warm water until they are limp and white, about 30 minutes.
2.  Heat oil over high heat in a wok until very hot. Add the shallots and garlic and stir-fry until golden, about 10 seconds.
3.  Add the egg and cook, stirring, until scrambled, about 30 seconds.  Add chicken and stir-fry until mostly cooked through, about 5 minutes.
4.  Drain the noodles and add to the wok, tossing with tongs until they soften and curl, about 1 minute.
Add bean sprouts, cilantro, scallions, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar , salt and chile-garlic sauce; toss until the chicken is fully cooked and noodles are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.
Sprinkle with peanuts and serve immediately.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Serving size:  1 cup

Serves 4

PP 7

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