Let’s talk about summer and all of it’s problems. More specifically, my problem. It’s this pair of jean shorts that sit in my dresser, never seeing the light of day until it’s too hot to wear jeans or when it’s “socially unacceptable” to wear leggings. Yeah, I keep working out over the winter, but when I’m constantly bundled in layers and haven’t experienced anything warmer than 65 degrees F, I let things go. Winter weight is unavoidable, (well, for me, at least) so whenever I’ve got to start thinking about squeezing into those jean shorts, I like to (must) start making lighter meals like these Spicy Asian Peanut Noodles.
Now that doesn’t mean just eating lettuce, think less stews and casseroles, and more crispy salads and cool foods! This is one of my go-to recipes for the summer. It’s easy to bulk make ahead of time and you can just toss all the ingredients together with the sauce once you are ready to eat. No soggy veggies in this house! You’ll be happy you made a huge batch of spicy asian peanut noodles. The spice comes from one the the workhorse condiments in our house, Sriracha. If you’ve never tried this fragrant and spicy sauce before, this is a great time to try!
You can use any vegetables you have on hand for your Spicy Asian Peanut Noodles. This particular combination reflect the random things were left in the fridge. We’ve used broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, pickled onions and many other vegetables before, so don’t let this picture dictate what you mix into your noodles! Just pick out whatever looks good or is in season. The only ingredient I don’t like to part with is the romaine lettuce. I’m normally not a huge fan of this weak and watery leaf, preferring darker greens, but in this recipe, the romaine adds a welcome juiciness that balances out the thick sauce and chewy noodles. It’s a great textural component while giving the dish some more volume.
Whatever veggies you choose to use, make sure to chop them into longer strips so they get caught in the noodles. If you dice them too fine, they slip through the noodles and you end up with a tangle of sauced noodles and all the veggies at the bottom. No matter how hard you mix, they won’t come together and just cause you everlasting grief. It’s easiest to mandolin the vegetables, especially if you are bulk cutting them for the week. And of course, PSA: ALWAYS USE THE GUARD. Ugh, even thinking about mandolin mishaps makes me queasy inside. (OK, I’m going to come clean and tell you that I don’t use the guard for about 2/3 of carrots. Once there are only 1-2 inches left, I switch to the guard.) If you’re in the market for a mandolin, look no further. This baby is Cook’s Illustrated approved, Amazon top rated, and idiot proof tested (by me)! I try not to collect uni-tasking items, but one you have to mow through 5 pounds of carrots or 10 onions, you’ll be glad you sprung for a mandolin.
Noodles. Mmm. So many kinds, how can I decide? Here’s the thing, you don’t have to! Any noodles will suffice, especially for our Spicy Asian Peanut Noodles. In this version, I’m using buckwheat soba. They have a wonderful chewiness and can withstand the sticky sauce and mixing without breaking into pieces. In previous batches I’ve used whole wheat spaghetti, rice noodles, sweet potato noodles, and those flat Chinese noodles that come in white boxes all pretty successfully. I tend to like the alkaline noodles that are chewier and don’t disintegrate after a while. If you don’t have an asian noodles around, you can boil regular pasta with some baking soda to add in the alkaline element.
Boil the noodles, drain them, and then let them sit in cold water. This helps them cool down faster and prevents them from coagulating into a solid, jelly mass. That’s no fun to untangle and definitely no fun to eat. Let them sit in the water until you are ready to combine all the ingredients together.
The sauce is probably the most complicated part of the Spicy Asian Peanut Noodles because it has multiple components. How sweet, spicy, or fishy your sauce tastes is up to you. I like things on the sweeter side and Owen like it spicier so sometimes I’l drizzle a little honey over my bowl and some Sriracha over his right before we eat. The main components of the sauce are: soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, honey, miso paste, Sriracha, and of course, peanut butter. Mess around with the proportions until it tastes the best to you. I know my formulation won’t be everyones favorite.
One of the most important ingredients is the rice wine vinegar. You may not think it does a whole lot, but the vinegar loosens up the sauce enough so it can easily coat the noodles and vegetables while providing an acidic tang to cut through the rich peanut butter. Another note, I use natural peanut butter because that is what we use for PB&Js. If you have the regular kind, just remember that it’s much sweeter than the natural kinds and to adjust your honey appropriately.
Once your sauce is done, dump in the noodles and the vegetables and give it a good mix. Make sure that everything is evenly sauced and that you don’t have giant clumps of noodles floating around. It’s easiest to use your hands to do this. They will smell quite delicious for a while. You can let the noodles and veggies hang out and marinate for a while, but watch the veggies, especially the romaine, as they will eventually start to wilt.
While the Spicy Asian Peanut Noodles else hangs out in the bowl, we can fry up some tofu! Many people don’t like the taste of tofu and I chalk that up to incorrect preparation. Tofu shouldn’t really taste like anything! It’s a vehicle for sauce and a protein source. So, are you ready for the secret step? Blanch the tofu. After you cut the tofu, return it to it’s little container and pour in some hot water. Let them soak and then pour out the lukewarm water. Repeat once or twice.
To get the best sear on you tofu, make sure to pat it dry with a paper towel before sprinkling on some kosher salt and use enough oil. This will get oil in the air, so cover the pan with a spatter guard if you have one. If not, just be aware that you’ll have some cleaning up to do on the stovetop. Once the tofu is seared to golden brown crispiness, marinate them with some soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil. The heat from the tofu is enough to cook the garlic through just enough so it isn’t completely raw. Surprisingly, the tofu maintains its crispiness after sitting in marinade.
For a special finishing touch on your Spicy Asian Peanut Noodles, sprinkle on some crushed up peanuts. I love crushing up peanuts in a plastic bag and then using a kitchen towel to wrap the bag before taking a heavy bottomed sauce pan to it. I’m not so sure my downstairs neighbors appreciate it though!
If you want to make extra and have stuff prepped for the week, just slice up the veggies and store them tupperwares in the fridge. The only veggie I would not chop ahead of time would be the romaine lettuce. This way you can easily whip up a plate (or bowl, if you’re like me) without the prep work. Just boil some noodles, fry up some tofu, and you’re ready to go!
While this recipe is meant to help me lose those winter pounds, it sure doesn’t help that I end up eating too much of it. Oh well. We’ll keep trying.