Today: A salad that will be even better packed up for lunch tomorrow -- with a creamy, yet vegan, sesame dressing. (If you're thinking secret ingredient, you're right!)
Rare is the salad that holds up on day two. Greens wilt, alliums go afoul, grains get weathered and dry. And improving with age seems out of the question, like asking salad to not be a salad.
So when we find a good one, we should hold it tight, and imprint it on our animal brains as a template to repeat and riff on -- to make our lives easier in all the brown bag lunches, picnics, and potlucks that will come our way.
Food52er ecrossi, who tipped me off to this recipe, explained our noodle salad problem best: "Most sesame and peanut noodle recipes are a real disappointment. They usually end up with a gloppy, too-sweet dressing that tastes like thinned-out peanut butter." Not this one.
Yeo puts more care into hers -- it might be a little more work than watering down peanut butter, but you won't be sorry you did it.
You'll toast sesame seeds. You'll sauté some shallots and garlic. Then you'll put those into a blender with a little sugar and a few bottled goods -- sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chile paste -- from your pantry. This will give you a dark, delicious slurry.
Then, whenever you're ready to dress, you'll whisk in water -- which loosens the sauce, and unlocks the creaminess of the broken sesame seeds.
It's one of those secret miracles of vegan cooking that makes you wish you listened to vegans more -- like nut milks, you get something milky-smooth and richly flavored where you'd least expect it.
Yeo's salad has strips of red pepper, daikon, and snow pea, but you could put in whatever vegetables you want. I can see broccoli and celery in winter, radishes and scapes in spring.
If you've been listening, and you're planning on keeping this salad around for lunch, it helps if they're crudité-like and built to last.
Adapted slightly from Fine Cooking
Serves 6 as a main dish, 8 to 10 as a side dish
For the sesame dressing:
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) sesame seeds
7 tablespoons peanut oil
3 medium or 2 large shallots (about 2 ounces total), sliced
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste -- if making vegan, use cane sugar)
1 teaspoon hot chile paste
3/4 to 1 cup water (or less)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
For the noodles:
12 ounces fresh Chinese egg noodles (sometimes called wonton noodles) or other long, thin noodles
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup blanched snow peas, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced daikon radish
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup thinly sliced scallions (cut on the bias on a sharp angle)
1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Put the sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until golden brown and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them. Put the toasted seeds in a blender.
2. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil over medium-low heat. Sauté the shallots and garlic until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Add the shallots, garlic, remaining 6 tablespoons peanut oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and chile paste to the sesame seeds in the blender. Blend on high speed just until a thick, rough paste forms, 2 to 3 minutes. Stop blending when most of the seeds have broken up and been puréed. After the paste forms, it will begin to get oily if you continue to purée it, as the seeds begin to give off their oil. If you have time, refrigerate the purée (for up to a day).
4. Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a rolling boil. Cook the noodles per package directions. If using fresh Chinese egg noodles, gently fluff the noodles and add them to the water, stirring. Return the water to a boil and cook the noodles for just 10 to 30 seconds. (These tiny fresh noodles don't need much cooking. If it takes a minute or more for the water to come back to a boil, the noodles will already be done.) Drain the noodles immediately and cool them under cold running water. Drain well. Put the cold noodles in a bowl and toss with 3 tablespoons peanut oil.
5. When ready to dress the noodles, drain off any oil that has gathered on the top of the purée. Whisk about 3/4 cup water into the purée to thin it and to reach a creamy consistency; the sauce will lighten in color and become emulsified; add more water as needed. Add the chopped cilantro to the sauce.
6. In a large bowl, toss the noodles with about half the dressing. Add the snow peas, red pepper, and daikon, and toss to combine (using your hands is easiest). Add more dressing if you like. Put the noodles in a large serving bowl or on individual plates. Garnish with the cilantro leaves, chopped peanuts, and sliced scallions, or pass little bowls of the garnishes at the table.
Photos by James Ransom