The key to cooking with chiles is to think of their heat not as a dare but as another essential building block of flavor, right alongside salt, acid, and fat. Rather than overpowering a dish, a perfectly calibrated prickle of spice enhances the other elements and wakes up the palate.
- 4 ounces soba (Japanese-style noodles)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- ¾ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 3 serrano chiles, 2 halved and seeds removed, 1 thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
- 2 cups chopped basil leaves, plus torn leaves for serving
- 2 cups trimmed watercress
- Toasted sesame seeds (for serving)
Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving ¼ cup soba cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, whisk miso, lime juice, and oil in a large bowl. Chop halved chiles, garlic, and a pinch of salt together on a cutting board, then use the side of chef’s knife to mash into a paste. Transfer to bowl with miso mixture and mix well. Add scallions, chopped basil, and cilantro and toss to combine; season pesto with salt.
Add soba, watercress, and sliced chile to pesto and toss, adding reserved soba cooking liquid by the teaspoonfuls as needed, until nicely coated.
Serve noodles topped with torn basil and sesame seeds.