Sesame noodles have a way of appearing at potluck dinners, on take-out menus, and in easy-to-make cookbooks. Generally, sesame noodles are made from an enriched pasta, like spaghetti or linguine, and coated with a peanut butter dressing. While these forms of sesame noodles are enjoyable, they seem to bare little resemblance to more authentic Asian recipes.
Noodles have a historic role in the Chinese diet, dating as far back as the Han Dynasty of 206 BC. Viewed as essential starches needed to balance out proteins, noodles are consumed by the Chinese people on a frequent basis. Chinese noodles are served in a variety of ways, including soup, stir fry, and even cold dishes. Many Chinese dishes call for the use of sesame oil, and cold noodles are often splashed with this oil prior to serving. This practice may have given sesame noodles their start.
Good sesame noodle recipes call for an emulsified mixture of sesame oil, garlic, and peanut butter. Great sesame noodles have a deeper sense of taste; in addition to the peanut and sesame dressing, there is a subtle layer of sweet and sour. By incorporating both vinegar and sugar in the dressing, sesame noodles are able to offer multiple layers of flavor.
Authentic Chinese cooks typically prefer to make their own noodles from scratch, however, packaged egg noodles can be used. Some recipes substitute Asian sesame paste in place of the peanut butter. Asian sesame paste is similar to tahini, an Arabic sesame paste. Depending on your level of comfort with dressings, this substitution may prove challenging. Smooth peanut butter is typically easier to emulsify than sesame paste, so choose your ingredients wisely.
To make sesame noodles, boil noodles in salted water until just tender. Drain the cooked noodles and rinse well under cold water. Whisk the dressing together by slowly drizzling the oil into the peanut butter or sesame paste. Pour the dressing over the cold noodles and serve.
Sesame noodles can be served plain or with sautéed vegetables. Some recipes call for the addition of shredded chicken while others incorporate chopped scallions. There are also recipes that add Chinese broccoli or watercress. In either case, many recipes encourage cooks to coat the ingredients evenly with the sesame dressing before incorporating with the noodles. Sesame noodles may be enjoyed on its own or as an accompaniment to another dish.