Meatless Monday: Peanut Butter 'n' Apple Noodles
Remember when cold sesame noodles were all the rage in the 1980s? How I used to love to tuck into a bowl of the chicken sesame noodle salad at Le Bus, a funky bakery-café in an old house on Sansom Street in West Philadelphia, just a stone’s throw from the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied English. Compared to what was on the menu at the campus dining hall, those noodles were exotic eating.
Not until I began studying cookbooks for a living did I learn that most cooks use peanut butter for the creamy sauce instead of Chinese sesame paste, which is harder to track down, and well, everyone has a jar of PB in the kitchen. I can’t remember the last time I slurped on a bunch of these noodles, but got a real hankering after spotting a version in Sheila Lukins’s new cookbook, “Ten.” In her adaptation of the Chinese takeout classic, Lukins introduces a tart Granny Smith apple to the mix, a throwback to my days of peanut butter and apple after-school snacks. She also serves her noodles hot, an idea that takes a minute getting used to, but I’ve gotta tell ya, it really works, the apples are delightful and it’s a fun slurper-upper for a night when you don’t feel like much cookin’.
While testing, I discovered that the recipe had a few holes, which I’ve patched in my notes, below. The biggest blooper is the recommended amount of peanut sauce for 12 ounces of noodles. Using this ration, you will have a gloppy mess on your hands, so go easy on the sauce! In fact, you can use just half that amount and plenty of nutty notes. Save the rest for leftover sauce for another, smaller serving of new pasta, atop rice or as a dip for carrots.
As you coat the noodles and toss in the garnishes, you’ll discover how fun it is to get creative with both texture and flavor. Next time, I’m adding fresh chile and maybe some julienned carrot or daikon.
Do you have a sesame noodle retro 80s love story to share? Do so in the comments area.
Sesame Noodles With Apples and Cucumbers
Adapted from “Ten” by Sheila Lukins
1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar (Shaoxing rice wine less pungent but a good Plan B; you could probably also get away with apple cider vinegar)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (granulated sugar would be okay, too)
½ inch-long chunk of minced peeled fresh ginger
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I prefer unsweetened; if you use sweetened, consider eliminating or reducing amount of brown sugar)
¼ cup sesame oil
3 tablespoons peanut oil (I ran out, so substituted Canola oil)
½ teaspoon chile oil, or more to taste (not sure if this is necessary; might substitute hot sauce instead)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon neutral oil
12 ounces spaghetti or the even thinner spaghettini
salt and pepper to taste
1 Granny Smith or equally tart apple, unpeeled, thinly sliced, tossed with the squeeze of ½ lime
small cucumber, peeled, seeded and julienned
4 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2-3 three tablespoons chopped salted peanuts
Other optional add-ons: ½ cup red bell pepper, diced, ½ cup bean sprouts, a handful of toasted sesame seeds, 1 medium carrot, julienned, another squeeze of lime.
In a blender or in the bowl of a food processor, add soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, garlic and peanut butter and process until smooth, 1-2 minutes.
Combine oils in a measuring cup and with engine running, drizzle into sauce. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly. Scoop out of machine and pour into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 90 minutes, to thicken.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add oil and pasta and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Drain, reserving a few ounces of the pasta cooking water. (THIS IS IMPORTANT.) Place noodles in a large shallow bowl and add half of the peanut sauce. Using a rubber spatula, coat the noodles with the sauce. Add reserved water if sauce needs thinning (and it probably will). Add apples, cucumber, scallions, peanuts and any additional garnishes. Toss to combine and serve immediately.
Makes four entree-sized servings.
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