Sunday, August 21, 2011
Summer Sesame Noodles
For someone with such an overdeveloped sense of nostalgia, I have a ridiculously piss-poor memory. When something's not in my direct line of vision, I can forget its existence entirely. Often this gets me into trouble, as I tell the same story repeatedly to my long-suffering friends. But sometimes it can be great. Recently my neighbor reduced me to hysterical laughter by telling me my very own joke that I'd made and forgotten just a few weeks prior. (Something about not trading their duplex apartment for a house after marrying, because the change in status hadn't come with a signing bonus. Although, now that I think about it, it kinda does.) And then there are these sesame noodles: a while back this was my go-to summer picnic dish, to the point where I got a little sick of it. But I managed to forget about it entirely over the years, so when it somehow percolated to the top of my brain last week, it was a deliciously welcome surprise. Hello, old friend! It's so nice to see you again!
This recipe is adaptable, and can be easily tweaked. For dinner, you can enjoy it warm, perhaps with a bunch of broccoli tossed in. But for hot summer nights, especially when you're picnicking at the local zoo listening to a great band play, you can go a little lighter. The noodles have a nutty/salty/spicy balance, with a slick of sesame oil that keeps them nice and slurpy even when chilled. In the summer, I play up the cold slurpiness even further with crunchy half-moons of cucumber, and the juicy sour-sweet burst of sungold cherry tomatoes. You can include the tofu for a shot of protein, or omit it for an even lighter salad. Usually I spark the dish up with handfuls of cilantro, but instead I used the basil left over from a corn and tomato pie (more on that next week), and I think it was even nicer. Maybe even unforgettable.
And in other news of summertime funtime (outside of the culinary realm), I direct you towards a radio story I just produced on the 20th Anniversary North American Jew's Harp Festival. Needless to say, that one will also be burned into my memory for some time to come.
Summer Sesame Noodles
inspired by a recipe for Skillet Szechuan Noodles included several years ago in The Splendid Table's Weeknight Kitchen mailing list, but since tweaked beyond recognition
12 ounces noodles (spaghetti or linguini are fine)
1 lb firm tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 Tbsp canola or other high-heat oil
3 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced ginger
3 Tbsp peanut butter
3 Tbsp soy sauce, plus more for frying tofu
2 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1 Tbsp chili paste or chili oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar or lime juice
1/4 cup water
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into half moons
4 scallions, thinly-sliced
1 large handful basil leaves, chopped
~3/4 cup sungold or other cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Cook the noodles according to the package directions, then drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
Heat the canola oil in a skillet over a high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the cubed tofu (careful of the spitting!), and sprinkle a bit of soy sauce over the cubes. Fry, turning after a few minutes and sprinkling on a bit more soy sauce, until the tofu is browned and crispy on the edges, ~5-7 minutes. Transfer the tofu to the bowl with the noodles, lower the heat to medium, and return the skillet to the stove.
Add the sesame oil to the skillet, and when it's hot but not smoking add the ginger and garlic. Saute, stirring, until they soften and begin to brown. Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, fish sauce (if using), chili paste, sugar, vinegar or lime juice, and water. Stir or whisk until the peanut butter melts into the sauce, and it is somewhat thickened and shiny. Pour over the noodles, and toss well to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
Allow the noodle mixture to cool slightly (just enough so that it won't cook the remaining ingredients), and add the cucumber, scallions, basil and cherry tomatoes. Toss gently to combine, and enjoy warm, cold or room temperature.