One of the first noodle dishes I learned how to make as a budding, preteen cook, was chilled Szechuan peanut noodle salad. For an inexperienced home-cook who consistently made mistakes and imprecise measurements, I found this dish to be very tasty and forgiving--even where my skill wavered. Thankfully, the ultimate outcome was always delicious.
The ample room for error allowed me to take liberties with ingredients and add what I wanted. . . But I always went back to the basics. The basics are as follows:
To make chilled Szechuan peanut noodle salad, start by whisking together a sauce combination of commercially-made chunky peanut butter, soy sauce, honey (or brown sugar as a substitute), and rice wine vinegar until smooth and all of the gooey peanut butter lumps have melted away into the silken sauce. Although I use chunky peanut butter for the preternaturally crunchy peanut particles, I would advise against using freshly ground peanut butter, because it lacks smooth and artificially whipped consistency of commercially-made peanut butter. Thus, I prefer "artificial" chunkiness to "real" chunkiness for this recipe. Yes, that's ironic.
I use equal parts of about 1/2 a cup of soy sauce and vinegar and about 1 to 1 1/4 cup of peanut butter. Also, I use about 2 to 3 tablespoons of honey, or 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar. You may use less vinegar, but taste the sauce as you go along. It should be creamy and less liquidy. Traditional recipes call for using black sesame paste, and some American-versions substitute tahini paste, but I just use double the peanut butter (the 1 to 1 1/4 cup I was talking about earlier).
As you can see below, things can get kinda messy.
As you are manually mixing the sauce, prepare about one pound's worth of dried wheat noodles. Boil the noodles until pliable and softened, and rinse them under cold tap water until cool to the touch. Drain the noodles well, and add a generous drizzle of sesame oil (two or three tablespoons) and finely minced garlic--about an entire bulb's worth.
Next, pour the sauce over the noodles, and mix until the noodles and thoroughly and completely coated.
At this point, add about five or six slender sprigs of scallions that have been minced or finely sliced on a bias. Include both the white and green parts of the scallions. You could even use the whole bundle if you wanted to. It wouldn't overwhelm the noodles. Also add about five grated carrots and one English cucumber that has been sliced into crescent, half-moon wedges.
I encourage you to add whatever fresh salad-type vegetables you'd like. I like to add crisp patches of iceberg lettuce that are hand-leafed and torn into bite-sized pieces. You may also add thin slivers of red bell pepper, slices of boiled egg, bean sprouts, and cilantro.
And that's it! It's very simple actually. But the best part is, when you taste these noodles, I know you'll be thinking, "Who needs peanut butter and jelly when you can have peanut butter and noodles?"
Oh, and for two food bloggers who tried this recipe, check out their blogs here and here!