This month’s Taiwanese recipe available exclusively in our September 30th newsletter is Vegan Taiwanese Cold Sesame Noodles (傳統涼麵). This perfectly light, easy to prepare and traditional Taiwanese noodle dish is equally as satisfying and refreshing on a warm day as it is any other time of year. But with the unusually warm summer we’ve had in Oregon this year, I’ve been nostalgic for some of my favorite cold noodles.
The foundation of the flavors for this dish is Taiwanese sesame paste. It differs from tahini, peanut butter or other nut butters because the whole sesame seed (including the hull) is toasted and ground; giving it a more robust flavor with a distinct bitterness and a darker color. Taiwanese sesame paste will have a familiar flavor and aroma if you’ve ever worked with toasted sesame oil.
The light, clean, simple flavors of this dish are representative of Taiwanese cuisine. Dishes are often stripped down to accentuate and highlight the core ingredient – in this case the bitter toasted sesame paste. Sugar, soy sauce and vinegar are added to provide the sweet, salty and sour balance but the primary flavor is still the toasted sesame paste. These cold sesame noodles are found in local markets, street-side vendors, neighborhood restaurants and even 7-Elevens in Taiwan. Other countries across Asia have similar recipes, like the Chinese version that adds chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn. But with the Chinese version the Sichuan peppercorn and chili begin to overpower the sesame paste; something this Taiwanese recipe avoids.
This dish is sometimes referred to as “liang mian” (涼麵), literally translated that means cold noodles. This term isn’t unique to these noodles and can be used for any cold noodle dish, this is however one of the more common cold noodle dishes in Taiwan and parts of China.
Traditionally this recipe is served with shredded cucumber and carrot and occasionally shredded chicken and omelette. My vegan version sticks to the basics and includes shredded cucumber and carrot. If you prefer the spicier Sichuan style you can add chili oil instead of sesame oil and ground Sichuan peppercorn or chili paste in the end. Personally, I prefer the clean flavor of the Taiwanese version of this cold sesame noodle recipe.
The noodles used in Taiwan for this recipe can be difficult to find outside of Asia, but a thin ‘Q’ or ‘QQ’ wheat noodle will do fine in their place. Q and QQ are the curious monikers used in Taiwan to denote the desirable chewy consistency found in many foods and drinks in Taiwan – like bubble tea, firm but chewy. I opted to use the ubiquitous organic ramen noodles since they’re easy to find and can easily be cooked QQ.
When served, the ingredients are not combined. It’s only after the dish is served that each diner will combine the sauce with the noodles and vegetables. For a distinctly local flavor, finish with a dash of Taiwanese black vinegar. This popular condiment in Taiwan is a mellow vinegar with a deep flavor that’s slightly sweet. In the bottle it resembles soy sauce and in addition to being a common condiment it’s also used in Taiwanese Hot & Sour soup.
This vegan Taiwanese Cold Sesame Noodles recipe is the fourth in our series of Taiwanese recipes that will be available exclusively to our newsletter subscribers. This recipe will be available in our September 30th newsletter. If you missed the previous newsletters, they will be included and linked to in our upcoming September 30th newsletter.
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