Note: Isn't it nice to pay with a ten, but still get change? Michele Humes returns with her Eat for Eight Bucks feature, where she'll help you fix up a tasty spread for two, but still get two bucks back (at least). Take it away, Michele! --Erin
12 ounces fresh ramen noodles - $2.49
1/4 pound sliced deli ham - $1.99
1 medium cucumber - $0.33 1 ear yellow corn or 8-ounce can corn kernels - $0.79 1 medium carrot - $0.43 8-ounce bag mung bean sprouts - $0.99 2 eggs - $0.36
Pantry items: Peanut butter or tahini, dark (Asian) sesame oil, cider vinegar, white sugar, garlic
Total cost: $7.38
Too often, sesame noodles in American-Chinese restaurants are wan and clumpy. "Pasta with peanut butter," Sam Sifton calls them—"fridge-flavored nostalgia." It's unfortunate, because the dish has such promise. More than that, it has history: For as long as there have been noodles, the Chinese have been warding off heat stroke by chilling and serving them, with a smattering of slivered goodies, in pools of sesame and chili oils.
Admittedly, my version of the dish is not strictly faithful to that history—but then it doesn't clump, either. I start with the Shanghai cold noodles I grew up with, eliminating a good part of the oil. Then I pilfer a few toppings from the Japanese variant, hiyashi chuka—which itself translates as "chilled Chinese-style [noodles]," so perhaps I'm merely reappropriating. Finally, I toss it all in a lightened version of the PB-rich paste that coats the American takeout classic.
The pan-Asian result calls for nothing that you wouldn't find in a typical American grocery store. (That said, you can considerably reduce the total cost of the dish by stocking up on noodles at an Asian supermarket.) It has richness, brightness, and crunch.
The dish is wonderfully flexible, too. I've made it with buckwheat soba, Italian capellini, and, in a pinch, the noodle block from a 50¢ packet of instant ramen, flavor pouch discarded. But I draw the line at rice-based noodles, which tend to seize up when chilled. Hulking strands of udon are no good here, either.
I've suggested some inexpensive toppings to get you started, but the recipe can easily accommodate slivered roast pork, shredded duck, chopped shrimp, or whatever leftovers lurk in your fridge. Just make sure to provide a range of colors and textures.
The only constant is the glossy, emulsified sauce of nut butter, vinegar and soy, and even that can be sweetened or sharpened to your liking.
Shanghai-ish Cold Noodles
- 12 ounces ramen, soba, or egg noodles
- 1/4-1/2 cup each of at least 3 or 4 of the following toppings:
- Carrots, julienned and blanched for 30 seconds
- Corn kernels, fresh (blanched for 1 minute) or canned
- Mung bean sprouts, blanched for 1 minute
- Cucumbers, de-seeded and julienned
- Plain omelet, sliced in strips
- Extra-firm tofu, in 1/2-inch cubes
- Ham, sliced in strips
- Cooked chicken, shredded
- Sesame dressing (recipe follows)
- Sesame seeds or crushed peanuts (optional)
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter or tahini
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice, wine or cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dark (Asian) sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced (optional)
- Chili powder or hot sauce (optional, to taste)
Assemble desired toppings and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Time-saving tip: Blanch all of your vegetables in the same pot of water. Load one vegetable into a sieve or wire basket that rests comfortably on the rim of the pot, and plunge into boiling water. When vegetable is done, remove the sieve from the pot and transfer contents to a bowl of ice water. Repeat with remaining vegetables.
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and shock in ice water or rinse under a cold tap until cool to the touch. Drain.
and toss to coat.
Puree all ingredients in blender until smooth.
If mixing by hand, place tahini or peanut butter and sugar in a medium bowl and gradually whisk in wet ingredients until mixture is creamy and uniform. If desired, stir in garlic and hot sauce or chili powder to taste.