Last night Ali and Nik came over for dinner as part of our ongoing automotive-work-for-food exchange program. Nik is gifted with knowledge of diesel engines and a deep understanding of the peculiarities of my particular VW, as he has the exact same one. Apparently one dinner is worth one fuel filter; labor is free because he enjoys it. It's a good deal, especially for Ali because she doesn't have to do any car work at all but still gets to eat. Last night we had sesame salmon in a soy-orange sauce (I think I've written about it before) and soba noodles tossed with peanut sauce and topped with a tangy cucumber-orange pepper relish. It's a good addition for peanut noodles because they can get sort of overly sweet and unctuous if you try to eat a whole pile of them; a spicy, tangy and crunchy counterpoint is sort of needed to go with.
Start by making the cucumber mixture because it needs at least 30 minutes to marinate. Wash, de-seed and chop one orange bell pepper into small ½" chunks. Peel one hothouse cucumber (also known, for some reason, as english cucumbers, they're longer and thinner than the normal kind and usually are found wrapped in plastic. Use a regular one if you can't find this type), and chop it into similarly-sized chunks and toss together in a large mixing bowl with the orange pepper. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 pinch red pepper flakes, 2 small cloves crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons finely minced cilantro, salt, pepper and about 3-4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Mix it up really well and let it sit at room temperature until it’s time to eat. Go over and mix it up now and then while you are getting everything else ready so all the pieces of cucumber and pepper get a chance to marinate. For the record, I decided after the fact that a little bit of chopped red onion would be delicious in this and am sad that I didn’t think of it in time to add it in. Try mixing in about ¼ cup—the marinating time will make it mild and delicious.
For the peanut sauce, I used my amazing new immersion blender. You can make the sauce by hand too or in a regular blender, but I’m in love with my new gadget and want to spend all my time with it. It comes with this mixing vessel—sort of a long, tall plastic canister that you can put stuff into for effective blending, so I just made the peanut sauce in that. If you don’t have an immersion blender (or if you do have one but no nifty blender container came with it) just dump everything in a big bowl. Peanut sauce is pretty easy and can be tweaked to suit you, so taste as you go and add more soy sauce or garlic or whatever if you think it needs it. Combine the following: 1 cup smooth peanut butter, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon red chili-garlic paste (you can find it in the Asian foods aisle of the store usually, otherwise just use red pepper flakes), 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger and ½ cup hot water. Blend the shit out of it with your mighty immersion blender…or puny human hands. You might find that you need to add more hot water, or vinegar or soy as you go along—add up to another ½ cup liquid with few repercussions. Boil a package of soba noodles (or really whatever kind of Asian noodle you like). When they are al dente, drain lightly so as to keep some water clinging to the noodles, immediately return them to the pot and toss with about ¾ cup of the sauce. Add more sauce if you think it needs it and sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds. Serve with the cucumber-pepper relish to go on top or right next to it or something. Leftover peanut sauce is really useful to have in the fridge—you can always toss it with more cooked noodles for a quick dinner or lunch, or use it to dip fried tofu in or make grilled chicken satay strips. You won’t regret it!