Next to avocados, cold sesame noodles is one of my all-time favorite foods. Often, I crave that nutty sesame taste with light but rich silky noodles. My first introduction to sesame noodles happened during my college years when I was living in the West Village of New York City. I had very little money to spend so I often looked for food that was within my meager means. Next to spending $2 for a falafel sandwich, cold sesame noodles was the next best deal.
My favorite sesame noodles came from a tiny restaurant in China Town called Little Szechuan. These noodles were light and not weighted down with peanut butter and sesame paste. They also had a great spicy kick. To this day I have not had sesame noodles that even compare the Little Szechuan’s noodles. Often, I walked from my apartment on West Street in the Village to China Town just to have these spicy Szechuan noodles.
Little Szechuan was a tiny restaurant located in a remote area of China Town. At most it had a total of 6 tables and was located on a hidden narrow street leading to another meandering road. I can’t remember the name of the street or how I knew about it. Yes, it sounds odd to describe a place in Manhattan as “remote”, but they exist, even on an island populated with over 8 million people.
Because I adore anything made with sesame seeds, it is not a hard job researching and testing recipes for the perfect cold sesame noodles. My main criteria are, they are not thick and gloppy with peanut butter. I want to taste the toasted sesame and not be weighed down by a pasty sauce. However, peanut butter is an important ingredient in sesame noodles because it keeps the sauce emulsified, like Dijon mustard does in a vinaigrette. Without peanut butter, the tahini or sesame paste will taste chalky and dry.
As I researched and tested many recipes over the years, I discovered they usually share the same ingredients. The main difference is how many of the specialty Chinese ingredients are used vs a more available substitute. The main differences come down to the proportions of each ingredient to get the deep umami and spicy flavor without feeling like you just ate a brick.
Unfortunately, if you want to make cold sesame noodles you must buy some specialty ingredients. The primary ones are the dark sesame oil and the sesame paste or tahini. The other ones are easier to work around. For instance, instead of Chinese sesame paste use tahini. Black vinegar has a deep dark flavor that adds a nice element, but rice vinegar is much more common and affordable. I specified garlic chili paste but chili oil is as common in most recipes. Or you can make the garlic chili paste or chili oil if you prefer. It is a lot to think about and these ingredients do add up, so do what is best for you. The good news is, if you invest in buying some of the ingredients like sesame oil, it will keep for a long time in the refrigerator. Also, there are other recipes to use them in.
I am feeling guilty asking to buy all these specialty foods. Fortunately, some of them are easy to get at your grocery store and might already own them. Soy sauce, tahini (Jayva brand is usually next to the peanut butter), and natural peanut butter are widely available. Rice vinegar is also located in the grocery with the other types of vinegar, or in the International section.
The other crazy thing is the packaging of the noodles. Unlike dried Italian pasta, most Asian noodle brands come in different size packages. I have seen them in sizes ranging from 5 oz to 12 oz. However, the amount of dried noodles or pasta you buy does not need to be exact. It is my opinion, the amount of sauce in this recipe is perfect for 10 ounces of noodles. If you need to make more, just double or make one and a half times the amount of sesame sauce to nicely coat your noodles. After you made it once you will learn how much sauce you need. You can find Asian noodles at the grocery located in the International food section and at Asian markets. You can also buy as many packs of dried Ramen noodle soup you want and throw out the seasoning packet.
Serve cold sesame noodles with
Cold sesame noodles are great for family gathering, vegetarian meals, or vegan dinners if your noodles don’t have eggs. When I want a more substantial meal I add shredded pieces of cooked chicken to the noodles for some extra protein. Other vegetables like broccoli also taste great with cold noodles.
Cold Sesame Noodles
- 10 oz Chinese Lo Mien Ramen, or spaghetti noodles
- 2 scallions sliced thin on a diagonal. White and green parts
- 1 medium 5 - 6.5 oz / 145 - 190 g seedless cucumber
- 2- inch piece of daikon radish or 1- 2 (3 oz / 88 g) watermelon radishes, or carrots
- 2 TBS 21 g toasted sesame oil,* extra to coat the cooked noodles
- 3 TBS 46 g / 150 ml soy sauce
- 2 TBS 25 g unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 TBS 40 g tahini or dark sesame paste
- 1 TB 21 g smooth natural peanut butter
- 1-2 tsp 4 - 8 g brown sugar
- 1 TB 18 g chili garlic paste*
- 1 tsp 2.5 g Chinese black vinegar8
- 2 medium garlic cloves green germ removed and minced or grated
- 1½ - inch 4 cm piece fresh ginger, minced or grated
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- roasted and salted peanuts rough chop for garnish
- chopped cilantro for garnish optional
Prep your vegetables
Peel and scrape out any seeds. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then cut each half in quarters. Cut each quarter into 1 - 2-inch (2.5 - 5.5 cm) strips. Set aside
Peel the radish and slice into very thin disc less than 1/8-inch (2 mm) thick. Cut each disk into matchstick size strips. Set in a small bowl filled with ice water. Set aside.
Take the sliced scallions and add to a small bowl filled with ice water. Keep the scallions and radishes in their ice bath for 15 minutes, or until you assemble and serve the sesame noodles. Set aside.
Cook the Pasta
Bring a big pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to the directions. Some noodles take 3 minutes to reach al dente, some take 10 minutes. If you are using the curly lo mien noodles stir with a fork to help separate the noodles without breaking them. Be careful not to burn your hand and overcook the noodles. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse in cold running water to stop the cooking. Once the noodles are cooled, shake out any excess water and carefully dump the noodles on a clean flour sack towel, or other lint free kitchen towel. Carefully pat the noodles lightly dry.
Plop the cooled noodles into a large mixing bowl add 2 teaspoon of dark sesame oil and using clean hands carefully toss the noodles until nicely coated. Set aside.
Make the sauce
In a medium mixing bowl add the toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame paste or tahini, peanut butter, brown sugar, chili garlic paste, black vinegar, minced garlic and minced ginger. With a wire whisk, whisk all the ingredients together until smooth and incorporated. Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning with using any of the sesame sauce ingredients you wish, if needed.
Add about 2/3 of the sauce to the noodles and toss with your clean hands to evenly coat the noodles. Taste and add more sauce if needed.
Drain the scallions and radishes and pat dry.
Add most of the remaining vegetables to the noodles, leaving some for a garnishing. Toss with your hands to mix together.
Scoop the cold sesame noodles out of the bowl and onto a serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds, chopped peanuts, cilantro if using, and remaining vegetables.
Do ahead note- If you make this in advance. Mix together the noodles and the vegetables and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Make the sesame sauce and cover with plastic wrap and keep on the counter until ready to serve. Add the sauce to the noodles right before serving.
There are two types of sesame oil. One is light in color and the other is darker because it is made with toasted sesame seeds. This recipe uses the darker sesame oil and is found in health food stores, Asian markets, or the international food section at your grocery store. Store dark sesame oil in your refrigerator, especially if you do not use it that often. My favorite brand is Spectrum and found in Health Food Stores, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods.
Chili garlic paste is found in most Asian markets and similar too Sambal Oelek. You can substitute these items with Hot Chili oil if you cannot find them. Add a little and taste as you mix the sauce, then add more as needed. If you want to keep your costs down and already have Sriracha sauce, use that instead. It has a very different flavor from the garlic chili paste but it does have a nice spicy flavor.
Black vinegar is also a specialty item found in Asian Markets. It has a very strong flavor and adds some great depth to the sauce. I totally understand if you want to skip out on buying it, but it will last forever in a cool pantry and is used in many Asian food recipes.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Pasta is the perfect foundation to pair with basil pesto. The intense herb flavor combined with sharp cheese needs a mild flavored foundation to compliment the sauce. Any type of pasta will suffice, but my favorite pasta with my favorite basil pesto recipe is cheese tortellini. Tortellini is widely available at the store, either freshly made, frozen or dried. As it happens, tortellini with basil pesto, grape tomatoes and green beans is one of my family’s favorite pasta dinners.
I love making pasta dinners with enough additional ingredients for a well-rounded meal. Marcella Hazan says a pasta meal is all about the pasta with just the minimal amount of sauce and add-ins. The pasta is the star. I learned a lot about cooking Italian food from Marcella’s cookbooks. However, here is where I diverge from her rule. For me, I try to make a whole meal that is nutritionally balanced.
Usually, I create a pasta dinner using pasta as the foundation with enough vegetables and/or proteins for a well-rounded meal. This way if I can’t make a salad, I know everyone will get at least one serving of vegetables. You still enjoy the comfort and flavor of pasta with the added nutritional benefits of a full serving of vegetables. Hopefully, the additional vegetables reduces pasta’s glycemic-index as well. Tortellini with basil pesto, grape tomatoes and green beans is also a great way to sneak in more vegetables for picky eaters.
Whenever I mix pesto into tortellini, or any type of pasta, I always add grape tomatoes. I never serve pasta with pesto without them. The sweetness and acid of the tomatoes nicely compliments the pesto and makes it taste more refreshing. I also love adding blanched green beans to my tortellini and pesto. It doesn’t add extra work and cooks in the same pot as the tortellini. Quickly blanched and crisp green beans add a nice textural contrast to the soft tortellini and smooth pesto. Basil, tomatoes and green beans all grow at the same time and as the saying goes, “What grows together, goes together.”
Tortellini with Basil Pesto, GrapeTomaotes and Green Beans
- 1 lb (450 g) fresh, dried or frozen cheese tortellini
- Kosher Salt for pasta cooking water and seasoning
- 1/2 lb (227 g) grape tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1/2 lb (227 g) fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) Basil Pesto
- Serve with freshly grated Romano cheese
- 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream or half and half Optional. Follow directions in summary.
Fill a stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Add at least one teaspoon of Kosher salt to the water and carefully taste. You want to taste the salt in the water. The lore is, the pasta water should taste like the sea. Sometimes I find that amount too salty. continue to add more salt until it is just right for your preference.
Add the tortellini and cook according to the directions given with the pasta. While the tortellini cooks, occasionally stir the pot to prevent the tortellini from sticking together.
About two minutes before the tortellini is done cooking, add the prepared green beans to the pot with the tortellini. Cook until the water returns to a boil. Taste the tortellini for al dente.
Drain the water and return the tortellini and green beans to the stock pot. Add about a 1/2 cup of pesto and stir o combine. Add the grape tomatoes and stir to combine.
Serve immediately with more Romano Cheese on the side.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is funny how one little pasta dinner is the cause of serious debate and unfavorable opinions. After all, pasta primavera simply is pasta prepared with delicately cooked vegetables. What is so serious about that? Well, Pasta Primavera’s origin for one, and its popularity for another.
A Brief History of Pasta Primavera
This pasta specialty is not of Italian origin, but is a 1975 American creation either at Le Cirque in NY City, or in Nova Scotia with a Le Cirque chef/owner connection, (Wikipedia). The recipe’s fame started at Le Cirque where customers could special order the meal because it was not on the menu. Amanda Hesser’s 2009 article in the NY Times, states Jean Vergens, then chef at Le Cirque, hated the dish so much he refused to allow Pasta Primavera cooked in Le Cirque’s kitchen. In order to satisfy their costumers, the staff had to cook the dish in the hallway.
What is not of debate is, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey’s article about Le Cirque’s recipe in the New York Times, made Pasta Primavera famous. Unfortunately, the fame of pasta primavera help create its’ loss of appeal. Across America, Italian American restaurants served Pasta Primavera. This crossover from a secret meal specially prepared, to mainstream America changed its identity. How can pasta with vegetables taste bad? It can when mediocre restaurants take over the pasta primavera market, (Hesser, A. New York Times 2009). Unfortunately, a meal created using French and Italian cooking techniques, became ordinary in the mass production.
Pasta Primavera Done Right
I like my pasta dishes with an abundance of extra ingredients mixed with some pasta, not the other way around. Depending on the recipe, pasta is a foundation for vegetables and sauces to stand out. Preparing pasta with good technique and consideration for the ingredients, creates food that is fresh tasting and has good structure and texture. A pasta dinner becomes a light and comforting meal. Pasta primavera is no exception. Primavera means spring and the vegetables and sauce should reflect a meal with fresh green vegetables with a light sauce. A rich and heavy sauce will overwhelm the vegetables and drain one’s energy.
This recipe is from Cooks Illustrated and, like a lot of their recipes, has a lot of steps. However, these steps help build flavor and develop a creamy sauce without a trace of cream. Even still, this recipe has 6 steps and the original Le Cirque recipe has 10, so fortunately, it is not as involved as the original.
What makes Cook’s Illustrated recipe so different? The pasta is prepared like risotto. This technique develops lightly toasted pasta with a nutty flavor. Additionally, this technique produces a silky and creamy texture and a double layer of flavor from the vegetables.
I slightly adapted the recipe by adding mushrooms and lightly toasting the pasta. It is my experience the pasta does not toast evenly in a Dutch oven. It is too deep and therefore, you get an uneven toasting. However, it is convenient to cook this recipe in a Dutch oven, otherwise I need an extra-large sauté pan or more pans. My focus is on the flavors of the vegetables and creating a silky-smooth textured sauce. Because I like the flavor of this recipe so much, I decided not to eliminate the step altogether and just pared it down. I was concerned the luscious texture would not be the same without this step.
As the name suggests, Pasta Primavera is a spring meal overflowing with vegetables. Also contributing to the lively spring flavor are wine, lemon juice, and fresh herbs. This is one of the freshest tasting pasta primavera recipes I’ve had. It is a lovely spring melody of asparagus, peas, mushrooms, leeks, and fresh herbs. It is clear the vegetables are the star of the show.
Gluten-Free Pasta Primavera
A note for a gluten-free version of this recipe. It is my experience that gluten-free pasta breaks down when prepared following the risotto style directions. The result is an unappealing pile of mushy pasta with your delicious vegetables. I recommend substituting the recipe’s method of cooking pasta, and follow the directions given with your favorite gluten-free pasta. I am not certain why my quinoa pasta turned to mush, but it seems a gluten protein structure keeps the pasta shape intact.
You will need less stock and only add it to braise the vegetables. Lightly, cook the vegetables for less time, in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan. Then, add some vegetable stock and wine and gently braise the vegetables until they are crisp tender. If you wish, just before serving, swirl in a couple of tablespoons of butter to the vegetables for a silkier sauce.
I would love to hear from you. Please tag me @lemonthymeandginger on Instagram or visit my Facebook page if you make this recipe or any recipe from Lemon Thyme and Ginger. Also, leave me a comment or question in the comment section below the recipe. I love to see and hear about your creations.
Spring Pasta Primavera
- 3 medium leeks halved lengthwise, washed then sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- 1 lb asparagus 453 g
- 2 cups 330 g frozen peas, defrosted
- 8 about 100 g white mushrooms, sliced
- 4 medium garlic cloves
- 4 cups 1 liter vegetable broth
- 1 cup water 250 ml
- 2 TB fresh mint minced
- 2 TB fresh chives minced
- 1/2 tsp fine lemon zest plus 2 TB lemon juice
- 5 TB Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher Salt
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 pound 453 g pasta, like farfalle, penne, campanelle
- 1 cup 250 ml dry white wine
- 1 oz 31 g grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
Prep the vegetables:
Trim off the tough ends from the asparagus. Rough chop the tough fibrous ends and put into a large sauce pan. Cut the spears on the bias into one inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Set the trimmed spears aside.
Wash and trim off the dark green parts of the leeks and add to the pot with the tough asparagus ends. Slice lengthwise down the middle of each leek. Wash each half making sure all the dirt is washed off between the layers of the leeks. Dry them with a clean cloth and slice each half into thin half-moons. Set aside.
Defrost the peas and divide into 2-one cup (250 ml) portions.
Enhance the broth
Add the dark green leek trimmings and 1 cup of the peas to the pot with the asparagus trimmings. Add the vegetable broth and one cup of the water. Turn the heat to medium-high heat and bring the stock to a simmer. Turn down the heat and simmer the vegetables in the broth for about 10 minutes. Drain the vegetables from the stock through a fine mesh strainer over an 8-cup measuring cup or large bowl. Press down on the vegetables to extract as much of the juices as possible. Discard the vegetables and add more water to make 5 cups of stock. Return the stock to the sauce pan and keep warm on low heat.
While you are waiting for the stock to finish, mix the lemon zest, minced mint and chives into a small bowl. Set aside.
Cook the Vegetable Medley
Add 2 TB extra virgin olive oil to a Dutch oven and set the stove to medium high. When the oil shimmers, add the leeks and a pinch of Kosher salt. Stir to evenly coat the vegetables in olive oil. Cook the leeks until soft and just starting to brown about 4-5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the trimmed asparagus and cook for 4-5 minutes until just tender, but still has a crispy bite. Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic, stir and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the peas, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Taste the vegetables and add more salt if needed. Turn off the heat and spoon the cooked vegetable medley onto a plate. Reverse.
Cook the Pasta
Wipe out the Dutch oven and add 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pasta, stir and cook for about 2 minutes stirring constantly.
Add the wine and cook until the wine has dissolved. Stir frequently while the wine is reducing.
Add the vegetable stock. Turn the heat up to bring the stock to a light boil, then turn the heat down to medium. Frequently stir the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed most of the stock. 10-12 minutes.
Putting it all together
Once the pasta is cooked al dente, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, 1 oz (31 g) grated Romano cheese, and half the reserved minced herbs. Stir the pasta until the cheese is evenly combined. Add the vegetables and stir. Season with Kosher salt, ground pepper.
Serve immediately and garnish with remaining herbs and Romano cheese.
If you use store-bought vegetable stock, use one that is not predominately made with carrots or winter squash. The stock will look orange and so will everything you cook it with. There are many vegetable stocks on the market and all taste different depending on the vegetables used to make it. (This is one reason why I make vegetable stock). I cannot deny the convenience of store-bought stock, but I encourage you to read the ingredients so you know what you are getting.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
During this frenetic and festive holiday season, it is helpful to have a well-stocked pantry to quickly feed the family without sacrificing flavor or nutrition. If you have a can of plum tomatoes, garlic and olive oil you can cook up a tomato sauce in 15 minutes. If you have fresh or dried rosemary and balsamic vinegar, that 15-minute tomato sauce elevates into a herby infused wonderland. There is no need to call for pizza delivery, tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce mixed in with steaming bowl of penne pasta is quick, easy to make, and will warm you up on these brisk fall nights.
Tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce is a throwback and staple recipe of mine. I used to make it a lot during the early years of my marriage for my growing family. Some recipes are timeless and will never feel out-of-place no matter how many years have passed. Tomato and balsamic vinegar sauce is such a recipe. It is a special classic.
I discovered it in a cookbook of mine, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan dating back to 1986. Marcella Hazan is one of my cookbook authors who I attribute to teaching me about real Italian cooking. While I read and cooked through her cookbooks, I learned how simple, but not simplistic, Italian cooking is. Using only a few key ingredients and traditional techniques, it is easy to create a fresh tasting, delicious and satisfying meal. Of course there are those traditional meals that take hours to make, but most of the food I relied on, could be prepared in 30 – 40 minutes. Many of Marcella’s pasta recipes became family favorites that over time would develop into our own.
This recipe first caught my attention because of the added balsamic vinegar and rosemary was unlike any tomato sauce I had before. From this recipe I learned about adding vinegar to a sauce or stew to brighten up the flavor of the food. Up until that time I had only used vinegar for salad dressing. I loved the additional body and bright flavor the vinegar brought out in stews and sauces, and I continue to season with vinegar in several of my other recipes.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I can hear the motors gearing up as people get ready to travel for a long weekend summer vacation. The car is packed with bikes, kayaks, towels, swim-gear, boogie boards, camping equipment, and overflowing with 12 changes of clothes per person for three days, because you never know what the weather will bring. Labor Day is here and people are anticipating a fun weekend full of playtime with family and friends for a last summer hurrah.
With all of this great activity in the summer’s sun, you are going to want to make food that will not take up a lot of your play time, needs to be nourishing, and taste as bright and delightful as your weekend vacation. My solution is Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad, loaded with fresh vegetables, cured olives, creamy cheese and fresh herbs. It is a light and refreshing pasta salad that will satiate your hunger and cravings and use up a lot of vegetables that you purchased at the farmer’s market, or picked from your own garden. The bonus is, this pasta salad recipe won’t take up a lot of your play time to prepare.
© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.