Cold Sesame Noodles
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
When I was seventeen or eighteen I moved to New York City. I went to NYU that fall, but before then before the studio in the village, the loft in Williamsburg, and of course the dorms, I lived with friends for a summer on the edge of Gramercy Park.
It was a condo in a new-ish building, built over a supermarket. It was a few blocks south of Les Halles, and a few blocks north of the greenmarket. There was a Chinese takeout joint on one corner, and a sushi restaurant on another. A block away a place called Lulu’s served strong margaritas and faux tex-mex to a cocaine-ish after-work/model-wannabe crowd. 80s leftovers.
The Chinese takeout place did lots of stuff well, and I didn’t realize yet how many places did so many of these things well, even better, or how much more there was to Chinese food. In some ways I think my real love of Chinese—szechuan-- food has only come from moving to San Francisco, not a exactly a hotbed of szechuan-nese. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Mine at least.
I ordered General Tsao’s, which I’d never had before. Pork Dumplings, which tasted like the Pork balls in London. Scallion Pancakes and Fried Rice, better than I’d had in Western Massachusetts (Chinese takeout knows no barriers!). And I ordered, perhaps at my friends’ suggestion, cold sesame noodles.
It gets hot in the summer in New York. That sounds obvious; perhaps it might be better to say that New York in the summer is a re-definition of HOT. But that sounds like a cliche. I am from Washington DC, where it really gets hot. I grew up in Rome, which might as well be part of Africa come August. I guess I think I have HOT bonifides.
Hot in New York in the summer is a different sort of hot. It is perhaps the nastiest grossest hot ever. Stinky garbage piled everywhere. Heat rising off the concrete. It’s gross. Half the city departs for the Hamptons, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and the rest of us—you-them- are left to stare at each other. You are left naked in the heat. Can’t wear too many clothes, too tired to mask emotions.
Hot weather food in Washington, on my uncle's farms, on a day I am feeling nostalgic is watermelon. Fruit is refreshing and reviving anywhere on any summer day. But it is so wholesome it's hard to swallow in the grime of an endless July day in New York.
Cold sesame noodles are good cold, room temperature, and lukewarm. They are good after sex, before going out for drinks, for a hungover breakfast. They might actually be nasty hot, and the refrigerator improves their flavor. They are easy to eat, they are easy to make, they are perfect make-ahead food. They make summer in New York bearable, and any meal pleasant.
And now, in San Francisco, babies like small bites, and they are a perfect addition to my lunchbox.
Cold Sesame Noodles
1tbs peanut butter (chunky or smooth is fine)
2 tbs tahini
(OR 3 tbs tahini OR 3 tbs peanut butter)
3 1/2 tbs toasted sesame oil
3 tbs soy sauce
1/4 c water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp chili flakes or a whole small serrano, chopped
1 lb Asian egg noodles or linguine
3 tbs minced scallion
Blend together the peanut butter, 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil, the soy sauce, the garlic, the gingerroot, the vinegar, the sugar, the chili paste, and a pinch of salt. In a kettle of salted boiling water cook the noodles until they are al dente, drain them in a colander, and rinse them well under cold water. Retain a ¼ of the cooking water. Mix the cooking water into the paste as needed/for texture (I usually don’t ad or add maybe 1/8 cup, but my husband does ¼, and that tastes good, too)
Drain the noodles well, in a bowl toss them with the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and mound them on a platter. Let cool for 15 minutes (on the counter or in the refrigerator) and then mix with sauce. Sprinkle them with the scallions + enjoy.
tahini jar photo from erikflickr