Noodles with Peanut Butter Dressing: An Asian Twist on Pasta Salad
Asian Twist on Pasta Salad

America's fascination with pasta salads has taken us a long way from the original macaroni salad. In the last few decades' pasta salads have became colorful and fresh, relying on vinaigrettes and an array of seasonal vegetables, cheeses, meats, poultry and seafood to help them sparkle.

Pasta varieties now include whole wheat, egg, cellophane, soba and the standard semolina. Look in the Asian grocery aisle to find Chinese-style wheat noodles. These Asian noodles have a little give to them so they can hold up to mixing without breaking. If unavailable, use dried linguini.

This spicy yet slightly sweet vegetarian noodle salad is a welcome treat. Dark sesame oil is enriched with rich and nutty peanut butter as the base of the Asian-style dressing. Fresh lime and spicy chili paste enliven the dressing further.

You can tame the heat by omitting or adding less of the chili paste. Look for firm tofu so that it will hold together for this dish. A colorful sprinkling of shredded orange carrots and green and white bean sprouts complete this satisfying main course salad. Serve a Gewurztraminer or cold beer with these noodles.

Help is on the Way:

Cooking pasta for a chilled salad requires a few tricks to make sure that the pasta doesn't stick together.

-- If using fresh noodles, remember they cook much faster than dried. Cook the pasta in boiling water, making sure to separate the noodles while cooking, using tongs or chopsticks. Make sure to check and pull the pasta out of the water when it is still slightly al dente. It will continue to cook.

-- Drain the pasta and rinse with cool water to make sure the noodles don't stick together. Then mix with the dressing or coat with vegetable oil to keep the noodles from sticking.

-- This can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

-- This may be served chilled or at room temperature.

-- You may substitute cooked chicken for the tofu.

Asian Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing

(From Karen Bussen's "Simple Stunning Parties at Home," published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang)

Serves 6

12 ounces Chinese-style wheat noodles

2 tablespoons sesame oil, plus more for the just-cooked noodles

1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)

Juice of 2 limes (1/4 cup)

1 tablespoon Asian-style chili paste

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup firm tofu, cut into small cubes

1 cup bean sprouts

1 cup finely shredded carrots

Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

1. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse in cold water.

2. Toss noodles in a few dashes of sesame oil to prevent sticking, and reserve.

3. Place peanut butter, limejuice, sesame oil, chili paste and sugar in a small bowl, and mix well.

4. Combine tofu, bean sprouts, carrots and noodles in a large serving bowl, and pour peanut sauce over all. Toss well to coat.

5. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.


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Noodles with Peanut Butter Dressing: An Asian Twist on Pasta Salad

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