As the summer heat reaches a high octane, a bowl of cold sesame noodles accented with sharp blades of cucumber is the perfect cool-down treat. Chinese sesame paste isn’t that different from tahini in consistency and ingredients, but the key difference is that Chinese sesame paste is made with roasted white sesame seeds instead of raw sesame seeds, which gives it a distinct nutty and aromatic flavor. It’s also much darker than tahini and has a deeper, slightly charred flavor.
Sesame paste—known as zhi ma jiang in Chinese—is mostly used in northern Chinese cooking, though now it’s a rather ubiquitous pantry staple throughout the country. It’s most commonly draped over noodles, or used as a dipping sauce for spicy dishes.
A high quality bottle of Chinese sesame paste is good enough on its own, but I like to throw in a bit of vinegar and soy sauce for an acidic and salty element. A dollop of spicy chili crisp will add some welcome heat to the dish, as well.
Sesame paste is available in almost all specialty Asian grocery stores across the United States, but if you really can’t find it, diluted peanut butter and a touch of sesame oil might do the trick. The consistency should be creamy—thick enough to coat the noodles completely, but not at all pasty.
The accoutrements are completely optional. Keep it as minimalistic as possible with a bit of thinly julienned cucumbers, or bulk up the dish with some matchstick carrots or shredded, cold chicken breast.
This dish can be prepped the day before or made fresh to order. It’s remarkably simple, but that’s precisely its charm.
Combine sesame paste, noodles and cucumber for the perfect summer dish.
Cooking time: 10 minutes
1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Strain and rinse with ice water. Drain again and set aside.
2. Julienne the cucumbers finely. Set aside.
3. For the sauce: Combine the sesame paste, soy sauce, black vinegar and sesame oil. Stir to combine.
4. Pour the sauce over the noodles. Garnish with the cucumbers. Serve cold.
East West Bank serves as a cultural and financial bridge between the U.S. and China. For more home recipes, follow Clarissa’s deep dive into how to use popular Chinese pantry products.