The Never-Ending Recipe: A good cold sesame noodle dish can always be improved upon. (Domenica Marchetti)

I like to know where my recipes come from and when they have entered my life. According to a note scrawled on the back of a spattered index card, my recipe for cold sesame noodle came from two sources: the February 1993 issue of Gourmet and Mollie Katzen’s book “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” (Ten Speed Press, 1995), which I’ve owned…forever.

In February 1993, I had been married all of three months. Perhaps my new husband and I had enjoyed a bowl of sesame noodles on our honeymoon in Hawaii — I have no recollection. Or maybe the recipe caught my eye as I flipped through the issue of Gourmet, which, hoarder that I am, probably still resides in a box somewhere in my basement or a pile up in my guest room.

At some point, I guess, I must have compared the Gourmet recipe to the version in “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” and come up with my own hybrid. I have tweaked it over time so that now, nearly 18 years later, it is just about where I want it to be. I say ‘just about’ because, like great potato salad, cold sesame noodle is one of those recipes that can always be improved and, in my opinion, will almost always fall short of the “ideal” version.

Still, the one I’m sharing here is very, very good. It combines tahini (sesame paste) and peanut butter for a pronounced nutty flavor. It’s stood the test of time in our house. Not only does my husband still love it, but both our kids do as well. When our son found out that I had made it a few weeks ago while he was at tennis camp, he was indignant and requested that I make it again immediately. Since I am an Italian mother, I did—though I did suggest that he learn to do it himself one of these days.

Like any good cold sesame noodle recipe, this one benefits from time spent in the fridge after assembly, so that the flavors have a chance to mingle; and then time out of the fridge (20 to 30 minutes) before serving, so that it is not too cold to enjoy those flavors.

And, of course, you should vary it as you like. I sometimes add steamed broccoli or bean sprouts or pan-fried tofu squares in place of shredded chicken. Thinly sliced red pepper is nice, too. To drink? A refreshing, dry Riesling from Alsace.

The recipe is after the jump.

Domenica Marchetti is the author of “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle, June 2011) as well as “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” (Chronicle, 2006) and “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” (Chronicle 2008). She blogs at

Cold Sesame Noodles With Shredded Chicken

6 servings

This recipe predates my kids. It’s one of their favorite summer dinners. I sometimes substitute pan-fried tofu for the shredded chicken, turning it into a completely vegan dish, though no less substantial.

To drink: a French Riesling from Alsace.

Based on recipes in a 1993 Gourmet magazine and in “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest,” by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press, 1995).

1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)

1/4 cup regular or low-sodium creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced or finely grated fresh ginger root

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili paste)

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

Salt (for the cooking water)

1 pound dried spaghetti or spaghettini

1 large cucumber, peeled, cut in half, seeded and cut into half-moon slices

1 cup thinly sliced scallions (white and light-green parts)

1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and shredded

8 ounces cooked skinless chicken breast, shredded

Combine the tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and sambal oelek in the bowl of a food processor. Process to form a thick paste. With the motor running, slowly add the water (as needed) through the feed tube and process to form a thick dressing. Transfer to a bowl or container with a pour spout, and cover.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook according to the “al dente” package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water, then transfer the drained noodles to a large bowl and pour about one-third of the dressing over them; toss to coat thoroughly.

Add the cucumber, scallions, carrot and cooked chicken, then pour another one-third of the dressing on top. Toss gently but thoroughly until everything is well coated. Add the remaining dressing if needed; the noodles and other ingredients should be well coated, but not drowning, in the dressing.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until the noodles are thoroughly chilled. Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.