My sister-in-law brought a wonderful sesame noodle salad to a recent celebration. It wasn’t my birthday, but her homemade dish tasted like a delicious gift. She used zucchini noodles in lieu of pasta for a purely plant-based spin, and to make it naturally gluten-free. Everyone loved it.
I’ve since made several renditions of her recipe, and have settled on the version below as our favorite. This sesame zucchini noodle salad is perfect for nights when it's too hot to cook, or if you’re just craving something light and healthy.
5 Fast Ways to Make this Sesame Zucchini Noodle Salad a Meal
These are my top suggestions to turn this sesame zucchini noodle salad into a complete lunch or dinner. Please leave a comment if you have more ideas!
Baked Tofu – You can buy gluten-free baked tofu at the store, or you can bake it yourself. Press the water from extra-firm tofu, cut it into cubes, and coat it with a little sesame oil and salt. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes, flip and bake until golden (about 15 minutes). While the tofu is baking, you can prepare the sesame zucchini noodle salad.
Cooked Shrimp – For ease, you can buy shrimp that has been peeled and de-veined. Pan-fry the (defrosted) shrimp until it just turns pink throughout and stir it into the salad. You can alternatively buy pre-cooked shrimp for an even quicker addition.
Grilled Chicken or Steak – Take advantage of the temperate weather in early fall and fire up the barbecue! This salad makes a great side dish, and it’s easy to spiralize the zucchini noodles and throw the recipe together while the meat cooks.
Leftover Shredded or Cubed Meat – You can cut or shred leftover chicken, pork, or beef to add meaty flavor and protein to this nutritious dish. Pre-packaged cooked meat will also work, but make sure it is allergy friendly. Serve your choice of protein atop this sesame zucchini noodle salad for instant bowls.
Chickpeas – Make it a light plant-based night with a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas. Simply toss the beans with the salad just before serving.
Zucchini Noodles FAQ
If you're new to noodling, don't worry! I've got you covered with answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Can You Make Zucchini Noodles without a Spiralizer?
You have two good options if you don’t have a spiralizer. The first one is to buy pre-spiralized zucchini. Many stores sell it refrigerated, and it’s often near the produce section.
The second option is to julienne the zucchini. Julienned zucchini doesn’t have the same “noodle” vibe, but makes an equally tasty dish. It does take quite a bit longer to cut the zucchini by hand, so I do recommend buying a julienne peeler or a spiralizer if you’ll be noodling often.
What are the Best Spiralizer Brands?
Spiralizers come in various hand-held and counter top models. If you want to keep your investment low, you can try a hand-held version first. Some people stick with these because they are smaller, store easily, and still work very well. A couple popular brands are the Adoric 3 in 1 Heavy Duty Veggie Spiral Cutter and the Spiralife Spiralizer.
If you're ready for a counter top model, then Brieftons 7-Blade Spiralizer is the gold standard. It's also relatively inexpensive! But KitchenAid connoisseurs might want to splurge on the Spiralizer Plus Attachment which has core and slice features, too.
Can Zucchini Noodles be Refrigerated?
Zucchini noodles will last in the refrigerator for few days if they are sealed in an airtight container or plastic bag. But once they are dressed, they won't last as long. This sesame zucchini noodle salad is best when eaten in the same day.
Should I Peel the Zucchini Before Spiralizing It?
Keep it unpeeled. The peel helps the zucchini retain it's structure, and prevents it from becoming mushy.
Do I Eat the Zucchini Raw or Should I Cook It?
You should always spiralizer (or cut) the zucchini when it’s raw. I make this sesame zucchini noodle salad with raw zucchini noodles, and so does my SIL. Raw "noodles" are more tender than you might think. But you can cook the zucchini noodles for a warm "pasta" dish if preferred. Heat a little oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the zucchini noodles and saute them until "al dente" (about 3 to 5 minutes).
Sesame Zucchini Noodle Salad Substitutions
I've always got options for you! Here are my tips for making ingredient swaps, if needed.
Feel free to experiment with other vegetable “noodles.” I think sweet potato noodles would go particularly well with the flavors in this dish. Pre-spiralized sweet potato noodles can be found in stores, or you can spiralize peeled sweet potato yourself. But I do recommend cooking this hearty vegetable before using it in any recipes. To cook sweet potato noodles, follow the directions in my Thai Chicken & Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls Recipe.
If you’re a super-taster when it comes to cilantro, you can substitute flat-leaf parsley or omit the herbs altogether.
Toasted Sesame Seeds
You can buy seeds that are pre-toasted or toast them at home. Simply add the seeds to a dry frying pan and place it over medium heat. Cook, while stirring, for a few minutes, or until the seeds are lightly toasted. Be careful – they can go from lightly golden to brown and burnt within seconds. Sunflower seeds make a nice sesame-free substitution, and they can be toasted using the same method.
I like to use toasted sesame seed oil when it’s available, but cold-pressed sesame oil also works well. For a sesame-free substitution, I recommend avocado oil or a light oil, like non-GMO canola or rice bran oil. These oils meld nicely with the flavors in this zucchini noodle salad.
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
As noted in the recipe, you can seamlessly swap gluten-free tamari for the liquid aminos. But for a soy-free sesame zucchini noodle salad, I recommend using coconut aminos. Coconut aminos can be substituted 1:1 for the Bragg's, but it is a little less salty and slightly sweet.
If you're looking for another healthy zucchini recipe, try these Keto Zucchini Taco Boats from That's Low-Carb.
Here are More Gluten-Free Vegetable Noodle Recipes
Paleo Pizza Noodles from Go Dairy Free
Easy Carrot Noodles from The Pretty Bee
Creamy Pesto Potato Noodles from The Fitchen
- 10 cups spiralized zucchini noodles (about 4 smallish zucchini)
- 1 red bell pepper, julienne
- 1 cup chopped snow peas (or sugar snap peas)
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- 4-6 green onions, chopped (about ⅓ cup)
- ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1 – 1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or gluten-free tamari)
- 1 tablespoon lite rice vinegar
- In a large mixing bowl, add the zucchini noodles, red bell pepper, snow peas, cilantro, green onions, toasted sesame seeds, and crushed red pepper flakes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the toasted sesame oil, Braggs Liquid Aminos, and lite rice vinegar.
- When ready to serve, pour the dressing over the salad, and toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Keep the zucchini unpeeled and raw! The peel helps the zucchini retain its structure, and prevents it from becoming mushy.
Raw “noodles” are more tender than you might think. But you can cook the zucchini noodles for a warm “pasta” dish if preferred. Heat a little oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the zucchini noodles and saute them until “al dente” (about 3 to 5 minutes).
You have two good options if you don’t have a spiralizer:
1. Buy pre-spiralized zucchini. Many stores sell it refrigerated, and it’s often near the produce section.
2. Julienne the zucchini. Julienned zucchini doesn’t have the same “noodle” vibe, but makes an equally tasty dish. It does take quite a bit longer to cut the zucchini by hand, so I do recommend buying a juliennepeeler or a spiralizer if you’ll be noodling often.
If you are making this salad for young children, you may choose to add the crushed red pepper flakes to individual bowls vs. the entire salad (so individuals can choose their level of spiciness). While I love the spiciness of the crushed red pepper flakes, younger, tender palettes may not.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Bragg, Liquid Aminos, 32 oz
McCormick Organic Crushed Red Pepper, 7.75 oz
Brieftons 7-Blade Spiralizer: Strongest-and-Heaviest Duty Vegetable Spiral Slicer, Best Veggie Pasta Spaghetti Maker for Low Carb/Paleo/Gluten-Free, With Container, Lid, Blade Caddy & 4 Recipe Ebooks
Chosen Foods Toasted Sesame Oil 25.4 oz., Non-GMO, for Salads, Dressings, Marinades, Asian Cooking and Recipes
Marukan Vinegar Rice Lite Seasoned G, 12 fl oz