When I was growing up, peanut butter was relegated mostly to the realm of sandwiches and sweets. Then one day, my mom came up with a savory noodle recipe that called for peanut butter. This was revolutionary for me—peanut butter and noodles?!?—but that was likely because of my limited exposure to Thai food. It doesn’t seem unique to me anymore, but it’s still delicious. I think this combination is the ultimate comfort food, yet it has a touch of the exotic that makes it feel fancier than mac-and-cheese.
This recipe uses the same sauce as that long-ago recipe of my mom’s, but I wanted it to be more of a meal-in-a-bowl, so I’ve added lots of vegetables, used whole wheat noodles, and tossed in some protein. The result is simultaneously sweet and spicy, with soft noodles and crunchy almonds.
One of the great things about this recipe is its versatility. You could use a variety of vegetables here. Broccoli comes to mind, as does yellow summer squash or finely diced red bell pepper. If you try any interesting combinations that work, let me know.
As you’ll see in the recipe, I’ve used cooking spray to help give the cauliflower and tofu an extra golden kick as they roast in the oven. I don’t think you could achieve the same result by using regular oil, as it would be difficult to get a light enough coat to prevent the cauliflower from getting overly soggy and oily. I have conflicting feelings about cooking spray, though. In general, I try to shy away from “fake” ingredients, and oil in a spray can certainly feels fake. However, it really comes in handy in some situations, and sometimes, like here, it’s hard to get the same result with regular oil. What are your thoughts on cooking spray? I’d love to know.
Speed it Up: There are a number of ways to cut down on prep here. The most extreme would be to leave out the vegetables all together and just toss the noodles with the sauce. It will still be delicious, but you’ll miss out on an interesting combination of textures and flavors, and I would at least add in the almonds to get a nice crunch with each bite. A more mild alteration would be to skip roasting the cauliflower. Instead, toss it into the boiling water with the noodles about 4 minutes before they’re done. I would leave out the tofu if you do this, as it would be very untasty boiled, and roasting it without the cauliflower won’t save you any time. Lastly, the sauce can be mixed ahead of time, then stored in the fridge before being poured into a pan to cook.
Meat Option: Add precooked and shredded chicken instead of or in addition to the tofu. Add it in when the noodles are done, at the same time as the vegetables and sauce. (Or, add it to one person’s bowl if the other diner’s are vegetarian.) However, because the cauliflower is breaded before being cooked, it has a meaty quality that makes it seem unnecessary to add anything else.
Special Diets and Allergies: Vegan, can be wheat-free if use brown rice noodles.
Spicy Peanut Noodles
This dish combines a sweet and spicy peanut sauce with tender noodles and crisp vegetables. Shredded carrots and zucchini are added in just before serving, which means they retain some of their crunch. Golden chunks of cauliflower and tofu, both of which have been breaded and roasted, add substance and protein. Top it off with chopped, roasted almonds and green onions, and this is a complete meal in a bowl. Feel free to use a whole head of cauliflower and leave out the tofu, if desired, or vice versa. Also, note that the red pepper flakes can be omitted or reduced for younger palates or those with a low heat tolerance, but they give a pleasant warmth and kick to the sauce.
1/4 C creamy natural peanut butter
1/3 C soy sauce
2 T water
2 T brown sugar or agave
2-3 T vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove, crushed (1 t)
1/2 t ginger powder
1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes (opt.)
4-6 scallions, chopped (set aside 2 T for garnish)
1/2 head cauliflower, chopped into bite-size pieces
8 oz sprouted, super firm tofu (like Nasoya brand vacuum packed tofu), cut into bite-size cubes
1/4 C water
1/4 C unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 t salt
7 oz whole wheat, thin spaghetti noodles
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium zucchini, peeled and grated
1/3 C roasted almonds, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Fill a pot of water and set on the stove over high heat to have ready for the noodles.
- While you wait for the water to boil, lightly spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Combine the 1/4 C water, 1/4 C flour, and 1 t salt and whisk until smooth. Add in the cauliflower and tofu and toss until lightly coated. Place cauliflower and tofu pieces on cookie sheet, making sure that there are no puddles of the flour mixture on the pan and that the pieces are not touching. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes, mixing once or twice, until golden brown on all sides.
- When the water boils, add the noodles and cook according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, combine all of the sauce ingredients, except the 2 T of the scallions, in a small saucepan. Whisk the ingredients regularly while cooking over medium-high heat, until the sauce begins to simmer and thicken.
- When the noodles are cooked al dente, drain them well, then immediately add the shredded carrot and zucchini, sauce, cauliflower, and tofu. Toss quickly to combine, then replace the lid on the saucepan and let sit1 to 2 minutes, to allow the carrot and zucchini to cook slightly.
- Serve sprinkled with the remaining scallions and almonds.
What is your favorite savory peanut butter dish?