When I was but a fledgling foodie, my mom used to make a dish she called Peanut Butter Noodles. As a college student, I think I may have tried to recreate it a few times (probably without consulting my mom, because that's what college kids do). I vividly remember one such experiment the very first time I ever visited Austin, back in 1992. My boyfriend at the time and I were staying in some co-op where we didn't know a soul, and we put the leftovers in a big tub in the fridge. We giggled the next day when we discovered that they had been devoured by somebody who likely had no clue whatsoever what they were eating. We later discovered how very un-strange that really was after moving in here.
For some reason, when I heard that the next Austin food bloggers' potluck was going to be a picnic, this long-lost dish popped into my head. I dug around a bit online and found this recipe, then consulted with my mom to get her take on it. Based on her recommendations, I modified it somewhat, so I'm posting my revised version here.
One particularly great thing about this dish is that it tastes good cold, so it's perfect for summer picnics, potlucks, or make-ahead dinners.
Peanut Butter Noodles
• 1 lb extra-thin dry spaghetti noodles
• 1 Tbsp sesame oil
• 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled & minced
• 1/2 Tbsp peeled, minced fresh ginger
• 1/2 c peanut butter (either smooth or crunchy works fine - if you use the crunchy, you might want to omit the peanuts)
• 1/4 c chopped dry-roasted peanuts (you may want to omit these if using crunchy peanut butter)
• 1 Tbsp soy sauce
• 1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
• 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
• 1 tsp Chinese hot oil (with or without seeds, depending on your preference)
• 1/4 c hot water
• 1 cucumber, sliced
• 1 c shredded chicken (I was lazy and bought a pre-roasted whole one - which was nice because I had plenty left over for another meal.)
• 6 scallions (both white and green parts), sliced
• Salt (to taste)
Cook the spaghetti until it is al dente, then toss it in the sesame oil. (Confession: I missed this step when I made this, so there was no sesame oil in mine. Honestly, I didn't think it too lacking, although it might add a nice dimension of flavor. However, I'm inclined to blend the oil in with the rest of the sauce rather than tossing it with the noodles separately).
While the spaghetti is cooking, you can make the sauce. Put the garlic, ginger, peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, and chili oil in a blender and blend until it is smooth.
The original recipe then suggests that you pour in the water while the blender is still running. My blender blew a fuse partway through this process, so I ended up using a food processor to make the sauce, and I knew that was not going to fly (or, more accurately, that it was going to fly. Everywhere. So I poured the water in, then processed it, and it worked fine.
Toss the spaghetti in the peanut sauce, then toss in the chicken, cucumber, scallions and peanuts. Salt to taste.
Note that the sauce tastes pretty strong and a little harsh straight out of the blender, but it mellows significantly after being tossed with the pasta. If you're nervous, you can add the sauce bit by bit, tasting it as you go.