Usually when I make her pasta salad recipe, I plan to take it to work for lunch. One batch makes quite a bit (it uses an entire box of spaghetti), so I have more than enough to take to work for the entire week (with plenty to share with any interested coworkers!).
And although it’s the middle of winter where I live right now, I am looking forward to making this next summer to take along on a picnic or a camping trip. The salad is served cold so it’s easy to eat at a picnic, and there’s no mayonnaise in it, so it’s easy to store in your cooler without worrying about the mayo going bad.
E. Lee suggests – and I 100% agree – that you should be sure to use sesame oil in this dish. Do Not Substitute Another Type of Oil! If you have an Asian grocery store around, they should carry sesame oil. I have also seen it in the Asian foods aisle at my regular supermarket, but it’s a little more expensive there. My regular supermarket also has American sesame oil, which is sold in the same location as the olive oils. American sesame oil is lighter in color and is not quite as flavorful as Asian sesame oil. Because sesame oil has such a distinctive flavor, if you cannot find the Asian sesame oil, it would be better to use American sesame oil than to substitute another type of oil.
The same goes for the peanut oil used to stir-fry the components of the dish. It produces a great, distinctive flavor and has superb frying characteristics (it can be heated to a very hot temperature before it burns). Don’t substitute something else in its place.
Specialty oils keep in your refrigerator for a very long time. (Sometimes the oil will partially solidify if it is refrigerated: just let it sit out on your counter for 10 minutes before you use it…or if you forget to let it come to room temperature, use a clean chopstick to reach inside the bottle to give it a stir and loosen things up.)
Whenever I make any kind of pasta salad, I always lay my cooked pasta out to dry while I prepare the rest of the ingredients. The salad dressing will cling to the dried pasta better than it will cling to wet pasta, resulting in a better pasta salad. If you don’t have time, you can skip this step, but for best results, make time to let the pasta dry for at least a short while.
Sesame Noodle Salad
1 pound spaghetti pasta (use whole wheat for a healthier pasta salad)
2 green onions, green parts thinly sliced into matchsticks and white parts finely chopped (see the pictures below before you start cutting anything)
2 carrots, thinly sliced into matchsticks
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
About 1/4 of a head of purple cabbage, thinly sliced
4 ounces shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A few Tablespoons of peanut oil, for stir frying
4 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp Asian hot sauce, more or less to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
Toasted sesame seeds (optional, for garnish)
First, start the pasta:
Break the length of the spaghetti in half. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Once the pasta has cooked, drain it thoroughly and spread it out to dry on a double-thickness of paper towels.
While the pasta is cooking, start chopping up the veggies:
Nearly every cut vegetable should be cut into a long skinny shape mimicking the size/length of the pasta. (If you elect to make this recipe with pasta that is smaller in size, like farfalle, cut the ingredients into shorter matchsticks to match the length of the pasta.)
Chop the green onions: slice white and light green portions into rounds, and the hollow, dark green tops into matchsticks. Keep the matchsticks separate from the rounds.
Cut the carrots, bell pepper, cabbage, mushrooms, and cilantro. Keep each ingredient separate from the others and set them all aside individually.
Finely chop the ginger and garlic; place them both in a large frying pan or wok. Add the white/light green portions of the green onions and about a teaspoon of peanut oil; stir-fry over medium-high heat until the ingredients are fragrant and the onions begin to soften. Transfer the ginger mixture to a small mixing bowl and set it aside. Reserve the pan for the next step.
Add the carrots to the empty pan; stir-fry over medium-high heat until they are crisp tender (as you work, you may need to add a little more peanut oil to the pan). Transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Repeat this process with the yellow bell pepper, then with the purple cabbage, then with the mushrooms, adding each cooked ingredients to the bowl with the carrots. Add the uncooked green portions of the green onions to the same bowl.
Finish the dressing:
In the small mixing bowl containing the ginger mixture, add the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and hot sauce; whisk with a fork to combine the ingredients
Put it all together:
Add about half of the pasta to the cooked vegetables. Drizzle about half of the dressing evenly over the pasta, then use a large spoon to stir the veggies into the pasta.
Add the rest of the pasta, the cilantro, and the peanuts. Drizzle the remaining dressing on top; continue to stir to incorporate all of the ingredients.
Garnish the pasta salad with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve the salad cold or at room temperature.
Thanks to E. Lee at Bacon Concentrate for the recipe inspiration!