Like any Midwestern grown child, I have eaten my fair share of comfort pasta salads. You know the one. Elbow noodles are slathered in a creamy and tart mayonnaise sauce and accompanied with chunks of cheese and vegetables.
I’ve always preferred this version over the herb vinaigrette pasta salad. These days, though, I have found my taste has changed a bit and now I crave a pasta salad that is lighter and brighter in flavor. My current go to salad is an Asian peanut noodle salad. Asian flavors may not be the first thing you think of when you hear pasta salad, but I find this salad just as comforting. The richness of the peanut butter and warm of fresh ginger and spices make it a perfect winter salad.
I find the two most important things about any good pasta salad are the noodles and the sauce. Outside of that, any vegetables or meat are just nice extras. I tend to keep the vegetables pretty simple with shredded carrots and zucchini, which cling well to the sauce-clad noodles. When it comes to noodles, I typically choose between ramen, soba (noodles made from buckwheat) or linguine. I like the thickness of the ramen and linguine noodles and enjoy the hearty, nutty flavor of the soba noodles which resemble a thicker spaghetti.
For the sauce, fresh garlic and ginger are a must. They impart the bright flavor that leaves just a bit of a tingle on your tongue, urging your taste buds on to take another bite. These spices are a perfect companion to the salty peanut butter. I don’t often feel the need for another protein source aside from the peanut butter, but chicken, tofu or even a hardboiled egg are lovely in this salad.
Asian Peanut Noodle Salad
Serves: 4 to 6
Toss cooked noodles in a couple dashes of sesame oil and place in a large bowl. Combine peanut sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If it seems too thick, add 1 to 2 tablespoons more water and blend again.
Pour sauce over noodles and toss until noodles are coated. Stir in the vegetables, cilantro and sesame seeds. Serve cold or at room temperature.