Published September 26. 2013 7:00PM Updated September 26. 2013 7:25PM
I have been trying to make decent cold sesame noodles for years — not delicious ones, or perfect ones, or ones that taste exactly like the best cold sesame noodles I’ve ever had. I just want to make a decent batch. I want to eat a bowl of cold sesame noodles that I made and I want to say to myself, “Not bad.”
Is that asking too much?
After many failed attempts, and many bowls of too salty, too runny, too sticky, tasteless or just nasty noodles, I have come to some conclusions.
First of all, along the juiciness scale, from really slurpy at one end to downright dry at the other, there exists an equally varied array of recipes for cold sesame noodles. In some, the noodles are clearly meant to be swimming in sauce while, in others, the sauce is meant to cling to the noodles but not puddle in the bowl.
It turns out, I like them both ways.
The next variable is extra stuff. Besides noodles, what belongs? Personally, I don’t want any grated carrot, julienned red pepper or heaven forbid, baby corn in my cold sesame noodles. I do, however, insist upon scallions, nicely sliced and lots of them.
Lastly, there is the noodle itself. In my book, you can use any noodle you’d like as long as you cook it to a perfect al dente. No hard core in the middle of the noodle, but still chewy, and never mushy. Rice noodles, lo mein noodles, thin spaghetti, dried ramen, whatever you’ve got in the cupboard.
My husband is the pasta cook I want to be when I grow up. He sets the timer for 2 minutes less than the shortest recommended cooking time on the package. When the timer buzzes, he begins tasting the noodles in 1 minute intervals, continuing to cook them until they are just right.
With the following recipes, I offer you two stops on the slurpy spectrum. The first recipe, which I have renamed Juicy Cold Sesame Noodles, calls for tahini and offers a thin, tangy sauce. The second, cleverly called Less Juicy Cold Sesame Noodles, uses peanut butter, garlic and fresh ginger, about the maximum number of additional ingredients that I allow. This sauce is thicker. There will be no sauce dripping on your shirt when you eat these noodles.
Juicy Cold Sesame Noodles
1 pound dried noodles (lo mein, spaghetti, rice noodles, thick or thin, whatever you have)
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame paste (tahini)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil (also called roasted or toasted sesame oil)
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce (I use sriracha and I use more, closer to 1 tablespoon. But adjust the amount to your desired level of spiciness)
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (I use 8 scallions)
6 springs fresh cilantro, stems trimmed (I omit)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cook the noodles until tender yet firm. Drain the noodles and shock them in ice-cold water. Drain again.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sesame paste, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and chili-garlic sauce until smooth. Add half the sauce to the noodles and toss well to distribute it evenly throughout. Add more sauce until you achieve your preferred level of sauciness. Garnish with the scallions and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Adapted from epicurious.com via “Noodles Every Day: Delicious Asian Recipes from Ramen to Rice Sticks” by Corinne Trang.
Less Juicy Cold Sesame Noodles
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (I use more – at least 3 tablespoons, perhaps even 4)
2½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons minced garlic (I prefer less garlic – words I never thought I’d write. I’m usually happy with 1 small clove, probably less than 1 teaspoon.)
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon Asian chili paste or dried hot red pepper flakes (I use sriracha and I use more, closer to 1 tablespoon. But adjust the amount to your level of spiciness)
¾ pound dried Asian egg noodles or spaghetti (lo mein, linguini, thick rice noodles. Avoid really thin noodles. No angel hair, please.)
3 tablespoons minced scallion (For me, more like half a cup.)
In a blender or using an immersion blender, mix the peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, water, garlic, ginger, vinegar, sugar, chili paste, and a pinch of salt. Set aside
In a big pan of salted boiling water, cook the noodles according to package directions until they are al dente. Drain them in a colander, rinse them well under cold water and drain them again. Put them in a big bowl and toss them with the sauce until well combined. Sprinkle on the scallions. Serve.
Original recipe adapted from epicurious.com.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.