Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Working Eater Series: Chilled Szechuan Peanut Noodle Salad

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!


  1. I am an any kind of peanut sauce addict and this sounds wonderful to me and any recipe that can suck up some fresh veggies as well is all good.


  2. Oh, joy of joys! I'm on an Eat What's In The Fridge You Stupid, Broke Woman kick, and I've been trying to figure out what to do with the package of udon noods!

  3. My mom used to make that for me whenever it got hot.


    I need to fly home and see my mom.

  4. I'm going to try that...the flavor combinations and your presentation make that look so yummm!

  5. I am a complete nut butter fiend - especially almond butter. I go through one - two jars a week so this seems right up my alley.

    Have you experimented with adding sesame oil?

  6. My family is a foodie. We love foooood. Your blogspot is certainly yummy. Thanks for all the tips in food preparation. We will definitely try this. My blog is leavesofgrace.blogspotcom

  7. This look so delicious! I am definitely going to try it and I know my whole family will love it!

  8. Your szechuan peanut noodles look like they came straight from a restaurant. Good job PE. :)

  9. oh wow pe! i can so relate the the working eater series, on days i work i dont leave till 7ish and by the time i stop at the market and cook it can be late. i'd love to have these noodles waiting for me at home, they look delicious, mmmm! i'm definately making this....

  10. Wow, this looks really good! I just might have to try making this myself sometime.

  11. You know, I tried to make this myself, but as a twenty-something, when I first tasted it somewhere in a restaurant. Mine came out really, really bad because I had no recipe. I think I will try again, with yours!

  12. I love noodles! And this looks unbelievably good!

  13. omg you have got to stop with noodles because i'm going crazy!!! i love them so much. i'm just going to have to make this. ooooh you!!!

  14. Thank you PE for offering the recipe to this really yummy looking (and certainly, tasting) dish! I can whip it faster than my standard Thai noodles. Always a pleasure to read your blog, what a great way to start my morning. ^_^

  15. Thanks for the inspiration! I wanted something fairly light for the Spring-like weather we had here yesterday, and had most of this stuff on hand - it was delicious!

  16. Neat -- this looks delicious. English cucumbers are my favorite.

  17. hey, you nut, how's the weather there in SF ? summer time came early for u ye ? I love my cold noodle nutty flavor the same way too :)

  18. I love peanut sauce Deborah Dowd, especially peanut sauce made with coconut milk!

    It is great and cheap Mary Sue!

    Chubby Panda, I am sure your mom misses you. Yes, come up to the Bay Area!

    Yes, let me know how it goes Wind Whisperer! Taste the sauce and add extra peanut butter if necessary.

    With that passion for peanut butter, I'm glad you didn't eat two jars of that contaminated stuff Douglas Cress! And I did use sesame oil in the recipe, didn't you see it? My posts aren't the easiest to read, so that is okay if you missed it. :)

    It sounds like your family is like mine Grace D. Chong!

    Thank you Sam, I hope you let me know how it goes! It might need some modifications (like more peanut butter to taste), but taste the sauce as you go!

    I try to learn from the best food photographer I know Rasa Malaysia, you!

    I leave around that time too Aria, and I always try to eat and make foods that are quick and relatively fuss-free. Thanks for the kind comment my passionate friend!

    Taste Tester, I've been so impressed by your blog lately! I have to try your suggested restaurants!

    Elmo Monster, I am sure it is much better than you are suggesting! My recipe might taste the same as your twenty-something noodles!

    Thanks Angie, noodles are my favorite!

    I love noodles and other carbs too Pink Nest, and unfortunately, it has been showing on my tummy!

    I really appreciate your sweet words Archivarian, I do hope you try the recipe, and let me know if it needs improvement! More peanut butter might be necessary.

    You're welcome Charise, I should be thanking you for your kind words and suggestions! And as I mentioned on your blog, I "guesstimated" the recipe proportions after I made the dish. Unfortunately, when I made the dish, I wasn't planning on making a recipe post, so I think some tweaking would make it better. But, I really appreciate your suggestions and I incorporated them into the recipe! Thanks again!

    I love that you don't need to peel them Eric. Just strip off the plastic wrap and quickly rinse them, and they're done!

    Melting Wok, the weather is so nice and warm! That is why I am going crazy on the chilled salads and iced drinks! I have to take advantage of the weather where I can!

  19. Mmm yummy! My dad and I used to make this all the time. He said it was one of his favorite things growing up and would get it from street vendors whenever he had some spare pocket money. I like your addition of cucumber, very refreshing.

  20. I would love to taste your Dad's version and the street vendor version Amy! And it was one of my favorite things growing up too! :)


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