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June 18, 2005

Recipe file: Cold sesame noodles

It's been a while since I've posted a recipe, and with the weather (finally) heating up, this seemed like the perfect time to discuss this delicious, cold main dish. I originally saw this recipe several months ago in an issue of Cook's Illustrated. We've made it three or four times, each time varying the recipe slightly.

I've always enjoyed a nice dish of sesame noodles (cold or hot) at an Asian restaurant, but had never even considered trying to make them at home, assuming that getting the sauce right would be more trouble than it was worth. The sauce in this recipe does indeed have a lot of ingredients, but none of them are especially expensive or hard to come by. And it comes together very quickly in a blender or a food processor -- simply pitch all of the ingredients in, and puree.

Prepared exactly as directed, the sauce is delicious and surprisingly complex: the major flavors are of course peanut and sesame, but you can also really taste the soy, garlic, ginger, and brown sugar. It's also very easy to alter the sauce slightly without ruining it. Do you prefer a more peanutty flavor? Just add a little extra peanut butter. Want a spicier sauce? Add more hot sauce. Find the garlic flavor overpowering? Add a little less. The sauce responds extremely well to tweaking.

One other major advantage of this recipe is that you can use either Chinese egg noodles or plain old spaghetti. We've found that spaghetti works surprisingly well in the dish. Just be sure that you cook it nicely al dente, rinse it thoroughly with cold water after it's cooked, and toss it immediately with the sesame oil. The sesame oil, by the way, really enhances the flavor of the dish, besides keeping the noodles from turning into a nasty gluey mass.

The "basic" version of the recipe, linked above, calls for (in addition to the sauce and noodles) shredded chicken, grated carrots, and scallions. We like to slightly increase the amount of carrot, since we really like carrots, and we leave out the scallions, since we are not fans of them. As to the chicken, Cook's recommends cooking it in the broiler, which makes it slightly crispy on the outside while keeping it nice and juicy on the inside. Although we haven't tried it yet, I think this will also work well with shredded grilled chicken breasts (which will solve the problem of having to run the broiler in hot weather). I think it's essential, though, that the chicken be shredded and not sliced or otherwise cut into chunks -- the texture of the shreds really absorbs the sauce, turning the chicken into a fully integrated part of the dish.

Cook's also provides a vegetarian variation of this recipe, which calls for cucumbers and red bell peppers instead of the chicken. Since we love cucumbers and all kinds of peppers, we saw no reason why the dish shouldn't include "all of the above:" chicken, carrots, cucumbers, and peppers. With all of the vegetables as well as the chicken, the dish really stands on its own as an entire meal. We will probably usually make it this way in the future, unless we're planning to serve it to vegetarian friends. Of course, the noodles would also make an excellent side dish -- a great thing to contribute to a potluck picnic.

Finally, there is one last great thing about this recipe: the leftovers can simply be pulled out of the refrigerator and eaten, no reheating required -- ideal for a quick summer lunch.

Posted by at June 18, 2005 11:08 AM