Sesame-Peanutty Noodles with Cucumbers

Adapted from "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest"
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings, depending on what else is served
The dark, toasty sesame oil infuses the peanut sauce to make a remarkably delicious Noodle Event! This tastes good at any temperature (even cold!) and a combination of minced toasted peanuts and cashew make an over-the-top topping.

Young children like to mash the peanut butter with the back of a soup spoon. If you like, you can let them do this for a while before you begin. Tell them they are "getting the peanut butter ready." They also think it's quite humorous and interesting to use peanut butter in an unusual context! Peanut butter jokes may abound....

1 cup high-quality smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 cups hot water
4 to 5 tablespoons cider vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt (possibly more to taste, depending on whether the peanut butter is salty)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons light honey or sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 to 4 tablespoons Chinese dark sesame oil (to taste)
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
1 pound cooked vermicelli noodles
1 medium cucumber„peeled, seeded, and cut into thin strips
4 scallions, finely minced (include as much of the green part as you can)
2 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds
1 cup minced peanuts and/or cashews, lightly toasted
Optional: Minced fresh cilantro for the top
  1. Place the peanut butter in a medium-sized bowl and mash with the back of a soup spoon to soften. Add about half the hot water, and continue to mash, very gently and slowly so as not to splash, until uniform. Add the remaining hot water, and patiently mix until smooth.
  2. Add vinegar, salt, garlic, honey or sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste, if desired. Stir slowly until well combined.
  3. Place the noodles in a large-ish bowl, and pour the sauce over the noodles. Mix with a fork until all the noodles are coated.
  4. Serve topped with cucumber strips, minced scallions, sesame seeds, minced nuts, and, if you like, minced cilantro, all piled up on top. Mix in the toppings at the table with everyone watching. It's mesmerizing!

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