Cooking Taiwan

Sesame and Peanut Butter Noodles and Spicy Cucumber Pickles

Last month, Tradition Kitchens invited me to do a cooking demonstration livestream. I shared my recipes for Taiwanese sesame and peanut butter noodles and spicy cucumber pickles. These are two of my most-requested recipes, and they are always a hit when I host dinner parties or bring them to potlucks.

Watch the video recording of the cooking livestream below and keep scrolling for the recipes for my Taiwanese sesame and peanut noodles and spicy cucumber pickles.

Sesame and Peanut Butter Noodles

My mom did most of the cooking growing up, but this is one of the few things that my dad would make consistently. There isn’t really an exact recipe for these noodles. They are highly versatile, and open to customization and experimentation. This dish is super quick. It only takes about the amount of time to boil water and cook noodles.  

We will start with the basic recipe, and then talk about variations. The portions below serve two people as a main dish. You could also skip the noodles altogether and use the sauce as a dressing for the vegetables or protein of your choice. 

  • 1 package (~10 ounces/~280 grams) noodles –  If you are shopping online, I like the fresh/frozen Kaedama Ramen noodles Sun Noodles or the dried organic ramen noodles from Hakubaku. If you have an Asian market near you, you can also look for  “oil noodles,” which work great for this too. And honestly, you can also just use spaghetti or any Italian-style noodle of your choice. If you go with the spaghetti, just add about a tablespoon of baking soda in the cooking water to give them a consistency that approximates ramen noodles, which contain alkali to give them a springy texture. 
  • 1 tablespoon each peanut butter and sesame paste. Look for an East Asian brand of sesame paste (suggested brand in the photo), which is made out of roasted sesame seeds, unlike Middle Eastern tahini, which uses raw sesame seeds. Tahini works in a pinch, but you might want to increase the amount of roasted sesame oil to compensate with that roasted sesame flavor. Also, feel free to play with the proportions or use all peanut butter or all sesame paste.
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Or I sometimes use a mix of soy sauce and miso paste. 
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar. A Taiwanese or Chinese-style black vinegar is traditional, but I use apple cider vinegar at home. Rice vinegar works well too. So does balsamic vinegar.
  • Roasted sesame oil to taste. Start with 1 teaspoon and add more if you like. A little of this stuff goes a long way. 
  • Spices: You can play with the aromatics to suit your taste, but here are some ideas to start.
    • 1 clove of garlic, minced
    • 1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
    • Chili oil and/or a Sriracha-style hot sauce (to taste)
    • Freshly ground black pepper 
  • Sugar to taste. Start with about a teaspoon and adjust accordingly. Or substitute with a sweetener of your choice: agave, maple syrup, honey, etc. The sugar helps balance the flavors, but the sauce shouldn’t taste distinctly sweet. Also adjust accordingly if you are using Sriracha sauce (which has sugar in it) or if the brand of peanut butter you are using is sweetened.  
  • Warm water or stock to thin out the sauce. Start with a couple of tablespoons and go from there.  
  • Garnishes: Here are some starter ideas below. 
    • Chopped scallion
    • Chopped cilantro
    • Chopped roasted peanuts
    • Roasted sesame seeds
    • More chili oil and/or hot sauce. I recommend the Sze Daddy chili oil from 886, a Taiwanese restaurant in New York City. 
    • Sliced cucumber or some spicy pickled cucumber pickles! (recipe below)

Or you can really make this into a full meal by topping with the vegetables and/or proteins of your choice. In the version pictured above, I mixed in some fresh arugula, which is not at all traditional, but tasted great. 


  • Start boiling the water to cook the noodles. Meanwhile, make the sauce and prepare the garnishes.
  • Stir together all of the sauce ingredients. The sauce should be the consistency of a creamy salad dressing. 
  • Once the noodles are cooked according to the instructions, drain and mix in with the sauce. Add more water or stock if necessary. Then add desired garnishes and enjoy! 


  • If you don’t like the taste of raw garlic and ginger, sauté them in a bit of oil before adding to the sauce. My partner also likes a version with caramelized onions.
  • If you don’t want to mess with fresh aromatics, I have used dried powdered garlic, ginger, and onions in a pinch and they taste good too. The dried powder is a lot less intense compared to the fresh aromatics.   
  • You can also play with some other spices. For example: add a bit of five spice powder, ground Szechuan peppercorns, or white pepper.
  • For more of a Southeast Asian flavor, leave out the sesame and increase the peanut butter amount, then add some curry powder and coconut milk to the sauce. Maybe a dash of fish sauce and a bit less soy sauce. And lime juice instead of vinegar. 
  • For more of a Japanese sesame cold noodle sauce, add more sesame and less peanut butter. You might need more water (or dashi stock) if you are serving the dish cold, so a squirt of Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise will help keep things creamy and emulsified. Leaving out the chili oil and substituting a squirt of mustard also takes this in a more Japanese direction.  

Spicy Cucumber Pickles

Variations of these spicy pickles are popular as an appetizer/side dish to help stimulate the appetite during the hot sticky weather that lasts for most of the year in Taiwan. They are also great as a side dish or topping for peanut sesame noodles. When I make these for parties, they usually don’t last very long.  

  • ~1 pound of Persian or Japanese cucumbers, cut into irregular chunks or lightly smashed/pulled apart (I demonstrate the technique in the video). This technique allows the marinade to permeate more quickly. Plus, it’s fun. 
  • ~1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ~2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ cup apple cider or rice vinegar
  • ~2 teaspoons soy sauce 
  • ~1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (or a mix of black pepper and Szechuan pepper)
  • A squirt of Sriracha sauce (optional)
  • A pinch of five spice powder (optional)
  • ~1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
  • Chili oil to taste – start with a teaspoon and go from there. I like to use Sze Daddy from 886 or Lao Gan Ma, a Chinese brand. 
  • Roasted sesame seeds and cilantro (optional – for garnish)

Substitution: If you don’t want to mess with fresh garlic or find raw garlic too intense, just leave it out. There is already garlic cooked into the Sriracha.   


  • Breakdown the cucumbers into bite size pieces. Then toss with the salt and leave to drain in a colander or strainer for 15-30 minutes. 
  • In the meantime, mix together the rest of the ingredients to make the marinade. Adjust the seasoning according to your tastes. The marinade should taste intensely salty and sour. The flavor will mellow out when water is released from the cucumber. 
  • Gently press any additional water out of the cucumber, then mix with the marinade and transfer to a non-reactive container. 
  • Cover and refrigerate. Ideally, you give these a few hours to marinate or ideally overnight. They last about a week in the fridge, but they never last that long in my house. 
  • When ready to serve, garnish with some roasted sesame seeds and cilantro if you like.

Sometimes when I have leftover marinade, I’ll add some to my peanut sesame noodle sauce (adjusting other ingredients accordingly).

The marinade also works great as a sauce for boiled shredded chicken. Shred the chicken while it’s still warm, then pour over the marinade and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. 

Cooking Japanese Recipe

Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken)

When I worked in Japan on the JET Programme, my adopted hometown of Nakatsu took pride in the local specialty of karaage (kah-rah-ah-gay), a kind of fried chicken. Locals told me that when Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is pretty popular across Japan, opened up in Nakatsu, it couldn’t stay in business because Nakatsu residents preferred karaage. Here’s my personal take on karaage:


This recipe serves 2 people as the main protein in a meal, or about 4 people as a shared appetizer.

  • 400 grams (14 ounces) of chicken, cut into roughly uniform chunks, about the size of a McNugget (I don’t know how else to describe it). In Nakatsu, skin-on chicken thigh is usually used, but I used boneless skinless chicken breast for the batch in the picture and they came out great.
  • King Arthur’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, for dredging – the mix of tapioca, rice, and potato starch make for a light and crispy crust. Traditional recipes often call for katakuriko (Japanese potato starch)
  • Canola or vegetable oil for shallow-frying
  • 1 fresh lemon, lime, or kabosu

For the marinade:

  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, grated or pounded with a mortar and pestle
  • 2-3 cm (~inch) piece of peeled fresh ginger, grated or pounded
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon shichimi togarashi, Japanese mixed chili pepper powder – optional
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, Kikkoman organic is my go-to brand; Use tamari instead soy sauce and the whole recipe is gluten-free
  • 1/2 tablespoon sake, cooking sake or the cheap stuff is fine
  • 1 teaspoon mirin, I prefer the all-natural traditional method mirin from Eden Foods. The mirin is optional, you could substitute half a teaspoon of sugar instead.
  • 1/2 tablespoon Kewpie Mayonnaise, What is this mayonnaise madness you ask? It helps the marinade adhere to the chicken, helps keep the chicken moist (important if you are using breast), and adds a bit of sweetness and umami as well.


Finely mince or pound the solid marinade ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Combine with all of the liquid marinade ingredients in a bowl and add the chicken pieces.

Coat the chicken with the marinade and let sit for 30 minutes.

Then dredge each piece of chicken in the all-purpose gluten-free flour. There is enough seasoning in the marinade itself, so there is no need to season the flour. Each piece of chicken should be lightly coated in flour.

Heat your oil in a cast iron or other sturdy pan. You only need enough oil for each chicken piece to be halfway submerged in oil. On my electric stove, I do this on medium heat. You will know when the oil is ready when you insert a wooden chopstick or skewer and it bubbles.

Fry three or four piece of chicken at a time until golden brown. Mine took about a minute and a half on each side. Be careful not to fry too many piece at a time, or you will cool down your oil too much.

Drain the chicken on a paper towel or cooling rack. Then serve with a squeeze of the lemon, lime, or kabosu. I also like to dip mine in some more Kewpie Mayo and a sprinkle of the shichimi togarashi.

To give you an idea of how serious Nakatsu is about karaage, here is a video (in Japanese) about how Nakatsu broke the Guinness World Record in 2019 for the largest serving of fried chicken made in a single day.

Cooking Japanese

Yuzu Cake

This yuzu cake features the aroma of a fragrant Japanese citrus fruit. The cake itself is a cross between an American style loaf cake and the Portuguese-inspired Japanese castella cake. It’s great on its own, or you can make it even more extra with some yuzu mezcal syrup. I just made some for my birthday. No stand mixer, creaming butter, or other advanced techniques necessary!


  • 200 grams all-purpose wheat flour
  • 5 grams baking soda
  • 10 grams miso
  • 5 grams vanilla extract
  • 120 grams of sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100 grams creme fraiche (or sour cream)
  • 120 grams of Perfect Puree Yuzu Luxe Sour (defrosted)
  • 150 grams melted butter (warm, not hot)

If you are making this boozy, you will need a bit more of the Yuzu Luxe Sour and some mezcal or rum.


Sift the flour and baking soda together in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, dissolve the miso in the vanilla extract and stir into a paste. Then add the sugar and incorporate. Next, whisk in the eggs until combined, followed by the creme fraiche and yuzu. Then fold in the flour and baking soda and mix until combined. Be sure not to overmix.

Transfer to a loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes at 175 C / 350 F. Check to test doneness with a toothpick or skewer, which should come out clean.

You can serve the cake as is, or liven it up with some yuzu mezcal syrup, which is two parts of the defrosted Perfect Puree Yuzu Sour mix and 1 part of mezcal (or rum). Poke holes in the loaf cake with a toothpick to help the syrup permit, then drizzle the mixture onto the cake to absorb. Start with a few tablespoons of the syrup to start, you can always drizzle some extra on to make it boozier and yuzu-ier when you serve the cake. 

Cooking Recipe

Lo Bak Go / Turnip Cake / Daikon Cake / Radish Cake / “Carrot” Cake / Chai Tow Kway

This dish has many names and variations. It’s a popular dim sum item and street food across Cantonese, Taiwanese, Teochew, and Southeast Asian cultures. I know it as lo bak go in Cantonese, luo bo gao in Mandarin, and chai tow kway in Taiwanese Hokkien. Apparently, it’s called “carrot cake” in Singapore, but it doesn’t actually contain any carrots. Also, it’s definitely a savory dish, so don’t let the “cake” throw you off.

The common essentials are daikon radish (also known as Chinese radish or Chinese turnip; the closely-related Korean mu radish also works here) and rice flour, which is made into a batter, steamed in a mold, and then pan fried. On the simple end of the spectrum, they are simply made with just the daikon and rice flour batter. Or you can make it fancy with all sorts of umami-laden bits.   

This recipe is my own personal take. The recipe works best made one day of ahead of when you want to eat it, since it really benefits from a night in the fridge. Now here’s the recipe:

Turnip/Daikon Cake Ingredients

Note that I use grams for my weight measurements and US cups and tea/tablespoons for liquid volume. Using a kitchen scale has been game-changing for my cooking. Refer to the ingredient notes at the bottom of the post for additional context and explanation.

  • ~900 grams fresh daikon or mu, peeled, and julienned  

Dry Ingredients

Umami Ingredients

  • 150 grams bacon, chopped into small bits 
  • 4-6 small or medium dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water, then chopped into small bits. Be sure to save the soaking water!
  • 100 grams chai bo, a salted, preserved radish product, rinsed, soaked, and chopped (optional)

Liquid Ingredients

Cooking Instructions

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. 

Put the bacon into a cold pan or wok, and bring up the heat to medium-high.  If your bacon is lean, you might need to add some oil, but I rarely do. Stir fry until browned and crispy, then add the shiitake mushrooms and chai bo, and stir fry on medium heat for 3 minutes. Next, add the scallions (if using) and stir fry for 1 more minute. Scoop out the solid umami ingredients and set aside for later. You can leave some bacon grease in the pan. There is no need to clean out the pan before the next step.

Add the julienned daikon and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender and translucent. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Add more water if it gets a little dry. 

Once cool enough to handle, scoop out and drain the daikon, saving the cooking liquid. Add more water to the cooking liquid if needed to get to 2 and a half cups. 

Add the strained daikon and previously pan fried umami ingredients back into your pan or wok (with the stove turned off). Stir in the oyster sauce now if you are using it.

Whisk the cooking liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients until incorporated. Pour the batter into your pan or work. Turn the stove to medium-low and stir the mixture together until it thickens. If it thickens too much, add an additional half cup of water. The batter should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.

Transfer the mixture into a greased heat-proof casserole or loaf pan. Cover with foil and steam for 1 hour. I don’t actually own a steamer large enough to make this recipe, so I put the foil-covered casserole in the oven along with another casserole full of boiling water, and baked at 300 F / 150 C for 1 hour. 

Check for doneness after one hour. Insert a toothpick or skewer. It won’t come out clean like a dessert cake, but the batter that sticks should be milky white rather than translucent. 

Allow everything to cool completely. Then put in the fridge for a few hours or preferably overnight. 

Remove the chilled daikon cake, slice, pan fry, and serve.

There are many different regional and local variations for serving this dish, but I divide them roughly into the “dim sum style” and the “street food style.” 

In the dim sum style, you cut the daikon cake into slices, pan fry in some oil until browned on two sides. Using a non-stick pan or griddle for this helps a lot. Garnish with some chopped scallions or chives if you like, then serve with the dipping sauce(s) of your choice. I like soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, and a tiny dab of mustard. XO sauce also works well, and some people use oyster sauce or a thick sweet soy sauce (a product known as soy paste in Taiwan or kecap manis (alternately spelled ketjap manis) in Malay and Indonesian. 

In the street food style, you cut the chilled daikon cake into cubes, and pan fry until brown. Then scramble in an egg or two, and add chopped scallions. Some variations also add bean sprouts or other vegetables at this point. When I make these street food style, I squeeze some soy sauce, Sriracha, and ketchup on top, which is reminiscent of my favorite Taiwanese street food breakfast version of the dish. The mixture of ketchup and Sriracha is a good approximation for Taiwanese sweet chili sauce.    

Ingredient Notes

To make a vegetarian version of this, leave out the bacon and oyster sauce. And perhaps increase the amount of fried shallot and garlic.

I used two small Korean mu for the recipe in the pictures. Mu are shorter and rounder than Japanese daikon, but the two are interchangeable in this recipe. After cleaning, peeling, and julienning, it came out to 710 grams.

Despite the name, I don’t recommend using Western turnips or radishes for this, as they taste quite different from daikon or mu. Some people prefer to grate the daikon, which is even easier if you have a food processor. I prefer a chunkier texture (and couldn’t find my grater) so I just julienned the daikon with a knife.

Be sure to use plain white rice flour and NOT glutinous rice flour or “mochiko” in Japanese. They are different products. Plain white rice flour is softer and more tender, which is more appropriate for this dish. 

Traditional recipes call for Cantonese laap cheong sausage and sometimes Chinese ham, but those require a trip to the Asian market, and I always have bacon at home. 

Some recipes also add dried shrimp and dried scallops that have been reconstituted by soaking for a few hours in water and then finely chopped. These make the dish more luxurious for sure, but also usually require a trip to the Asian market or an online order. 

The fried shallots and garlic are optional. A lot of recipes don’t call for them at all, but they add flavor and texture, and I always have them on hand in my pantry. You can buy jars of fried shallots and fried garlic at an Asian market or online. 

The scallions are also optional, but I like adding them to liven things up a bit.

Chai bo is a salted, preserved radish product. In some versions of the dish, they are stir fried with the daikon cake, but I think they are nice mixed into the batter as well. They provide a salty, funky, umami and crunch. 

If you leave out the oyster sauce, you can substitute fish sauce, or just double the amount of salt you add. 

Cooking Food Holiday

Coconut Spice Mochi Brownies

Enjoy this mash-up of brownies, gingerbread, and Hawaiian butter mochi. This is a super simple holiday dessert recipe that packs a ton of tropical flavor.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C.

2. Mix wet ingredients in a bowl:
* 6 eggs (beaten)
* 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
* 1 can (400 ml) of coconut milk
* 400 ml of cow’s milk (use the can of coconut milk to measure)
* 1 stick of butter (melted)

3. In another big bowl, mix the dry ingredients:
* 2 cups of mochiko (glutinous or “sweet” rice flour)
* 1 cup of unsweetened dry shredded coconut
* 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1.5 cups of coconut (or brown) sugar
* 1 teaspoon of baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
* Optional: since this is the holiday season, I kicked things up by adding1/4 teaspoon of each of the following dried powdered spices: cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg, ginger. If you really want to live on the edge, you can put some cayenne pepper in this too.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix well and pour into a 9 x 13 inch (33 x 23 cm) baking tray. Bake for 1 hour. Enjoy!

These brownies are great by themselves or warm with some ice cream, or you can always reheat them in the microwave or a toaster oven to serve later. If you want a drink pairing, port wine works well. Or a not-too-smoky whisky.