Do you remember the first time you had peanut butter? Peanut butter wasn't much of a thing in Finland when I was growing up (understatement), so I do. I was a slow convert to the peanut butter straight up, not mixed with anything school (and I still don't get the PBJ sandwich, but then I don't want jelly anywhere near my sandwiches anyway), but used in spicy sauces (and peanut butter cookies, but that's a bit different) it has a more instant appeal, adding this smooth and creamy depth to, er, whatever you're mixing it with.
A noodle salad with carrots, bell pepper and scallions, in this case. The sauce is really the star of this thing, fabulously spicy and satisfying, so obviously you could, and should, play around with the amount and type of vegetables. (I did make it again later on with chicken, and that was lovely too, and for a more nutritionally balanced vegetarian option, mung sprouts would be lovely.) I chose to mix in just half of the dressing before serving, so everyone could add more to their plates according to taste.
Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
adapted from Bon Appétit, Oct 2004, serves 3
75 ml (1/3 cup) peanut butter
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 fresh red chili pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1½ tbsp ginger, minced
about 50 ml vegetable (or chicken) stock, or enough to make the above a fairly runny sauce
150 g rice noodles
3 medium carrots, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 bunch scallions, julienned
(I find julienning things therapeutic. If you don't, this dish is going to be a lot less fun to prepare.)
Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a food processor and blend until smooth. (I find that you need to chop the chili really finely for this to work at all, but your mileage may vary.)
Bring a pot of water to the boil and throw in the carrots and bell pepper. Add the rice noodles, take off the heat and let stand for however long it says on the package. (3 minutes in this case, which was just perfect for the veggies.) Drain and run under cold water, then drain well again. Mix in the scallions and enough sauce to make it nice and slick. Serve as is or cold, with more sauce on the side.