Toasted sesame oil is a flavor that I have come to love lately in life. My first introduction to it was as a food service manager for a university. I don’t remember what the dish was (‘cause we scrapped it, and chose something else), but it called for the Thai peanut dipping sauce. To test the recipes before the day of serving, and to let the staff taste the food, I went shopping and whipped up a (huge) batch in the blender. It smelled horrible. I tasted it. It tasted nasty. I asked my manager to taste it. He said, Oh, it’s okay. But, I was just positive that something was bad, as in, rancid bad. So, I went back to the store and bought more toasted sesame oil, more peanut butter. By this time, I was pretty sure it was the sesame oil. Made another batch. I still had the same gagging reaction. It’s entirely possible that they were a little rancid, sat on the shelf too long. At that time, the town had only one Thai restaurant, and I was not familiar with it (yet!). Let’s just say that that smell stuck with me for a very long time. Even after I had eaten dishes that were prepared with sesame oil and loved them, it has taken a very long time for me to prepare anything in my kitchen that contains toasted sesame oil. And that town embraces a multitude of ethnic restaurants.
We’re talking about 15 years..
But now, that little bottle of toasted sesame oil sits IN THE FRIDGE, no going rancid here, and there are one or two dishes for which it is totally essential. And this is one of them. What a turnaround, I now actually get cravings for these noodles. Whole Foods usually carries these on their lunchtime salad bar, and pre-packaged ready to take home. We went on Friday for lunch, just to hit the salad bar and satisfy my noodle craving, but they actually didn’t have any on that day. So, I had to make them myself. Believe it or not, I was actually determined not to make them at home. Not another cold, summer salad that I would be eating by myself.
No matter how good.
Well, so here they are:
- 6 ounces soba noodles, cooked per package directions, run under cold water and chilled
- 1 ½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced or pressed
- 2 to 3 tablespoons peanut butter, your choice
- 1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce (I used low-sodium)
- 2 teaspoons honey
- ½ of a large cucumber, deseeded, chopped fine, about 1 cup
- ¼ cup cilantro
- ½ cup tomato, diced
- ½ cup red bell pepper diced (I used a Lipstick Pepper, farmer’s marked find)
- ½ cup red onion, diced (because it was lurking in the fridge)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, optional
- Red chile flakes or chile paste, optional
While noodles are cooking (mine only took 3 minutes, so I actually did this after the noodles were cooked, drained, and rinsed), heat sesame oil in a small skillet or pan on medium. Add ginger, then garlic. Stir a little. Let warm up for 1 to 2 minutes. Add peanut butter, rice vinegar and soy sauce; mix well. Taste for seasonings; adjust to your taste by adding a dab more honey, soy sauce, or vinegar. If everyone eating this dish likes spicy, this would be a good place to add some red chile flakes or chile paste. Let cool a few minutes and toss with the noodles, then add the remaining vegetables.
My take on my version: could have used more noodles. The package I used was a 12 ounce package, with each half of the noodles wrapped in a paper ribbon, equally dividing the package, so that is what I had left in the package. Eight ounces of noodles would have been perfect. Also, I love the chile paste in mine, but don’t add it to the main dish because I never know who I’m going to be sharing it with. This would serve 2 as an entrée, or 4 as a side.
I think what drew to finally tries these noodles was the beautiful photos online, full of glistening noodles chock-o-block full of a variety of veggies. The contrast in color of all the different veggies appealed to me, as well as the contrast in flavors: sweet, salty, spicy, and cooling (if you like cilantro).