Categories
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. 

Instructions:

  • 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! 

Variations: 

  • 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.   

Instructions:

  • 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.