So Many Reasons To Love These Japanese Noodles

Photo: Courtesy of Serious Eats.
By J. Kenji López-Alt

I love cold wheat-noodle salads. Dan dan noodles are one of my favorite Sichuan dishes, and a quick and easy spicy peanut noodle salad is one of my go-to simple late-night meals. But, even I've got to admit that wheat noodles can get frustrating from time to time. Sometimes, I just want the flavor of those Sichuan peppercorns, vinegar, and chili oil without feeling sluggish and weighted down after finishing a bowl. Plus, wheat noodles can release starch as they sit in their sauce, turning what was once a light and refreshing sauce into a starchy and stodgy stew.

I'd eaten shirataki or similar yam noodles before, but it wasn't until recently that I started noticing pouches of them suspended in water at American supermarkets. Shirataki (or ito konnyaku) can vary in appearance and texture depending on where you are in Japan, but all are made with glucomannan starch extracted from devil's tongue yams. It's an indigestible dietary fiber that basically passes straight through you, giving you a noodle with zero net calories and zero net carbs.

Does all that talk of carbs and dietary fiber and calories make your eyes glaze over? Yeah, I feel the same way. If you eat shirataki noodles as a diet food, more power to you. But, the real reason I love them (and perhaps the reason why you should, too) is their texture, and that's really all we need to talk about when it comes to shirataki. They are virtually flavorless on their own, which means they are superb for picking up the flavors of whatever sauce they're in. Texture-wise, they're slippery and slick, sort of like a cross between spaghetti and Chinese green bean jelly — and it's this texture that makes them such a joy to eat.

Then, of course, there's the convenience aspect. Aside from a bit of draining and rinsing, shirataki noodles require no preparation at all. Drain, rinse, dress, and you're ready to eat. It takes longer for me just to heat up a pot of water to cook wheat noodles than it does for me to prepare a cold shirataki noodle salad from start to finish. For pure convenience-to-flavor ratio, that's pretty darn tough to beat. And, this Sichuan-style shirataki noodle and cucumber salad is the perfect place to start.

Sichuan Shirataki Sesame Noodle Salad With Cucumber, Sichuan Peppercorn, Chili Oil, and Peanuts (Vegan)
Serves 2 as an appetizer or 1 as a light meal

Ingredients
1 (8-oz) package shirataki noodles, drained
3 dried Thai chilies or 1 tsp chili flakes (more or less to taste)
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp)
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
3 tbsp Chinese sesame paste or tahini
1 tbsp Chinese Chinkiang or black vinegar (see note above)
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (white and pale green parts only)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and thin stems
1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup roasted peanuts crushed lightly under a pan or in a mortar and pestle 

Instructions
1. Transfer shirataki noodles to a colander or strainer. Rinse under cold running water for 30 seconds, then set over a bowl to drain while you make the sauce.

2. Crush the dried chilies in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder until they have the texture of store-bought crushed red pepper flakes. Place in a heatproof container along with Sichuan peppercorns. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Pour the hot oil over the chilies and Sichuan peppercorns (it should sizzle vigorously). Let stand 5 minutes while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

3. Combine garlic, ginger, sesame paste, vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar in a large bowl and stir with a spoon to combine. Carefully pour the chili-infused oil into the bowl through a fine mesh strainer (add only half of the chili sauce if you prefer a less spicy dish). Discard dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. Stir sauce to emulsify, adding a few drops of water if it is very thick (sesame paste can vary in thickness). Add cucumbers, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and drained noodles. Toss to coat, adjusting seasoning with more tahini, sugar, soy sauce, or vinegar to taste. Transfer to a serving platter, top with peanuts, and serve.
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