February 01, 2008

Superlative Sesame Noodles

the dressing:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons black sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons hot chile (sesame) oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame paste*
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 1/2 inch knob ginger, grated

8 oz . skinny noodles* cooked, drained and cooled

to serve
toasted sesame seeds
chopped scallions
seedless cucumber slices or ribbons
steamed snow peas

In a small bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients until smooth. Toss with noodles, cucumber and snow peas then sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds.

* AKA tahini (not the super light tahini-make sure the label says it was made with toasted sesame seeds, not raw) or use Chinese sesame paste
**Somen, lo mein, soba, even thin spaghetti would all work.

My thoughts:
I love sesame noodles but always hated recipes that called for peanut butter. It just seemed wrong somehow. Then I got to thinking: if the taste I really wanted was sesame so why not just use sesame paste? It serves the same purpose (helping with the emulsion of the sauce and adding some flavor depth) and is roughly the same texture. In fact, to take a not-so-wild stab at it, I think that whole reason peanut butter is even in sesame noodles was because it is easier to find than sesame paste and not because of any ancient sesame noodle tradition. Now that tahini and sesame paste is at nearly every grocery store (one near me has 5 different brands of the stuff included a nice organic toasted variety) there is no reason not to use it. You can also find it in most Asian markets, along with the sesame and chile oils.

And you know what? These were the best sesame noodles I ever had. Who needs peanut butter? Packed with sesame flavor but not overwhelmingly so, with just enough heat to keep it interesting. Plus the cucumbers and cold noodles give the dish a hot-cold aspect that I love.