Why It Works
- Instead of a noodle dish with vegetables, this is a vegetable salad with some noodles.
- This quick dish is made primarily with pantry staples, plus some fresh vegetables and herbs.
Back in the summer of 1999, I was living in Cambridge with very little money to spend, and way too many ways to spend it. The projects I spent my meager undergraduate research assistant paychecks on had varying degrees of success.
Constructing a miniature golf course in a four-story building: unsuccessful. Impressing potential girlfriends with fancy meals: unsuccessful. Building a mini bar that consisted of more than cheap vodka, peach schnapps and Midori: mildly successful (I also added cheap whiskey to the mix). Discovering how to cook really great breakfast sandwiches late at night: successful.
I compensated for this overspending and underachieving by subsisting almost solely on the aforementioned late-night breakfast sandwiches along with the cheapest menu item at the Chinese food truck: peanut noodle salad.
A little spicy, a little sweet, a little salty, chewy Chinese noodles with cucumbers, peppers, and scallions coated in a chunky peanut sauce was a tasty, filling meal that I only occasionally got tired of. Had I known how easy it is to make at home, requiring not much more than a few pantry staples and some fresh vegetables, I would have even been able to add some cheap gin to fully flesh out my bar.
My tastes and my budgets have changed a bit since my college days, but I still have a soft spot for cold peanut noodles. These days, I make them with far fewer noodles and many more vegetables. Indeed, it's now more of a vegetable salad with a few noodles added in for textural contrast. The sauce is pretty much the same (though I prefer it with more of a kick than usual). A handful of fresh herbs round out the flavors. This time I chose basil, but cilantro or mint would be equally delicious.
I'm not sure where exactly the dish originates from. I'd suspect that it's a deeply modified American take on the sesame-based version of Sichuan dan dan noodles, with peanuts taking the place of the sesame paste and fresh vegetables subbing in for the preserved mustard root.
The version I make with herbs and bean sprouts has some relation to various Southeast Asian salads as well. In the end, all that really matters is that it's delicious. That it takes under half an hour to throw together doesn't hurt either.
8 ounces fresh Chinese noodles (see notes)
For the Dressing:
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons fresh ground chili sauce (such as Huy Fong brand Sambal Oelek or Sriracha), more or less to taste
2 tablespoons juice from 2 limes (or rice wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane grater
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
3 tablespoons warm water
2 large red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
1 large cucumber, seeded and sliced into fine julienne or small half moons
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil, mint, or cilantro leaves
8 scallions, finely sliced at a severe bias to create long, thin strips
2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, sliced into fine strips
1 to 2 red Thai bird chiles, finely minced (optional)
1/2 cup roughly crushed roasted peanuts
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl of ice water. Agitate noodles until thoroughly chilled. Set aside while you make the dressing.
In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, chili sauce, lime juice, sesame seed oil, garlic, sugar or honey, and water. Whisk until homogeneous. Drain noodles thoroughly and add to bowl. Add bell peppers, cucumber, bean sprouts, basil leaves, scallions, jalapeños, and bird chiles (if using). Toss to combine. Serve immediately, topped with roasted peanuts.
Fresh Chinese wheat noodles are available in most Asian markets. 1/4 pound dried linguini, fettuccini, or spaghetti can be substituted if fresh Chinese noodles are unavailable.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 30g||38%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||23%|
|Total Carbohydrate 46g||17%|
|Dietary Fiber 8g||28%|
|Total Sugars 14g|
|Vitamin C 124mg||622%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|