Versatile peanut noodles can be made with your choice of...

Versatile peanut noodles can be made with your choice of vegetables and protein and served warm or at room temperature. Credit: Marge Perry

I’m not sure when or why peanut noodles slipped out of my regular rotation, but I feel like I have rediscovered an old friend.

Peanut sauce is relatively healthful and quite versatile. In the recipe below, the peanut noodles are tossed with strips of chicken and lots of vegetables. You can easily substitute shrimp or tofu for the chicken, and swap out whatever vegetables you have on hand. The noodles may be served warm or at room temperature, and may also be served as a side dish, without the additions of vegetables and protein. Or, let the sauce cook a couple of more minutes to thicken, making a great dipping sauce for chicken skewers.

Not all peanut sauces are created equal. Many restaurants (and home cooks) have a tendency to make them overly sweet, which obfuscates the other flavors. The key to great peanut noodle sauce is balance: you need just enough acid, at least a touch of heat, and the savory nuttiness that comes from unsweetened peanut butter.

The sauce thickens as it stands. You can make the noodles ahead and simply toss in a splash of hot water to bring the sauce back to smooth silkiness.

Peanut Noodles with Vegetables and Chicken

8 ounces fettuccine, cooked according to package directions

1 teaspoon + 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 garlic clove, finely minced

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

¼ cup natural peanut butter

3 tablespoons lower sodium soy sauce, divided

1 tablespoon hoisin

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

¼ teaspoon Asian chili paste/sauce (or more to taste)

¼ cup (unsweetened) coconut milk

1 ¼ pounds boneless chicken (breasts or thighs) cut in ½-inch wide strips

2 scallions, thinly sliced, white parts and green separated

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 cups shredded red cabbage

3.5-ounces shiitakes, trimmed and sliced (about 2 cups)

1 cup trimmed sugar snap peas

1. Cook the fettuccine according to package directions. Drain but do not rinse.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a small saucepan over medium. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until they are somewhat softened but not browned, about 1 minute. Stir in the peanut butter, 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, hoisin, brown sugar, vinegar and chili paste. Cook, stirring often, until sauce is thick and smooth, about 4 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and cook until smooth, about 1 minute. Toss the warm sauce with the noodles and drape loosely to keep warm.

3. Toss the chicken with the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce.

4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring once or twice, until it is no longer pink in the center, about 5-6 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted lengthwise in a strip will register at least 160 degrees). Transfer to a bowl.

5. Add the sliced white parts of scallion, red pepper, cabbage, and shiitakes and cook, stirring, until just softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the sugar snaps and chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes.

6. Check the noodles: if the sauce looks thick, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons hot tap water until it is silky looking. Stir in the chicken and vegetables; sprinkle with the green scallion slices.