I love when a new recipe directs me to an ingredient I have never heard of or worked with before. There’s that moment of fear at the market when you say the name out loud for the first time, wondering just how horribly you botched it’s pronunciation. There’s a prickly moment of anticipation when you begin to cook and again when you taste it, knowing you may have completely screwed up, rendering it nearly inedible. Finally, there’s the moment when you serve it, smiling, to your dinner guests and tell them it’s quite possibly the best thing you’ve ever tasted, hoping desperately that they’ve never heard of it before either*.
This is cooking at it’s best. This is why when I am asked what’s my favorite thing to cook, I always answer “What I haven’t cooked yet.” I love nothing more than trying new things, taking a chance, failing miserably sometimes, and getting right back on that figurative horse. It’s the only way you learn, and there is joy and fellowship in sharing these adventures with others.
So grab some soba noodles – Japanese buckwheat pasta – rich, dark, clean-tasting Japanese tamari soy sauce, deep, roasted sesame oil and that odd beast: fresh, unsalted peanut butter, with a skim of oil over the top, and make this wonderful cold summer salad. Feel free to get it wrong a few times, but each time you bring it to the table smile, tell them it’s magnificent, and enjoy every minute of your time together.
*This, of course, is significantly more fun if you’ve just laid down the weekly grocery budget for something like dried porcini mushrooms or a rack of lamb. Soba noodles are cheap.
Asian Peanut Noodle Salad
Note: This is far easier than described above. Here are the two tips you need: Rinse the noodles well to get rid of excess starch and don’t get nervous when whisking the peanut butter. It takes a minute to soften up then breaks into what looks like shredded paper before finally turning smooth.
- 1/2 pound soba noodles
- 3 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
- 2 tbs toasted sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup fresh, unsalted peanut butter*
- 3 tbs Tamari soy sauce
- 2 tbs sesame oil
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste. Gochujang would be great in this too!
*The oil separates and rises to the top in fresh peanut butter. Just stir it into the jar before using. You can find organic brands like Teddy Bear on your grocery store shelf. If you are allergic to peanuts, try Tahini, a toasted sesame seed paste, or another nut butter.
- Cook noodles by adding the package to boiling, unsalted water. When al dente, about 4 minutes, drain and rinse really well with cold water.
- Make the dressing: Thin the peanut butter by whisking it with 1/4 cup warm water. Whisk in tamari soy, sesame oil, vinegar and hot sauce.
- Add Sriracha to taste and dress salad. Start slow and make sure you don’t overpower the noodles.
- Serve topped with cucumbers, scallions, fresh cilantro and sesame seeds.