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I am a noodle monster. Rice or wheat, egg or vermicelli; chow mein, lo mein – all mein. Yaki soba, pad thai, teppan yaki, ramen or udon, bo bun – those words are magic to my ears. Jajangmyeon. Jjamppong. Mie goreng. Mi rebus. Pad Kee Mao. Khauk swè. Banh pho. OMG.
I always get excited about new dishes but the prospect of trying out a new oriental outfit that might/will serve noodle dishes makes me giddy. I moan like the grumpiest old git about the dearth of exotic restaurants around where I live; with just Indian (too smelly, and they don’t even eat noodles) and Chinese (boring western type of dishes) in the forecourt. The most memorable place I ate at in the French Dordogne river valley, the land of foi gras and truffles, was a small Vietnamese restaurant. The Welsh lamb is safe with me – Mei’s Asian fusion place was my favouritest in the whole of North Wales.
I learnt to cook good noodles the hard way: rice noodles don’t get crisp, they dissolve into a lump of starch. When they say ‘soak’ on the packet, you need to soak; when they say ‘cook’, you cook or chew plasticky strands for ever. Packages know better than you.
Sauces are more than just soy, sweet chili and oyster sauces in random proportions; you do NOT have a natural flair for creating tasty sauces unless you’re Chinese or Jason Atherton. But then, to be honest, give me a bowl of plain noodles and a bottle of soy sauce and I’m happy.
These are plain, vegetarian, sesame flavoured, takeaway-style noodles with peanuts (of course), cucumber (genius) and beans (or beansprouts, or sugar snaps, or mangetout); recipe adapted from NYTimes Cooking. And they are to die for.
sesame noodlesServings: 4Time: about half an hour
- 2 tbsp. toasted or untoasted sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil, plus a splash
- 3 tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. grated ginger
- 1 clove of garlic, grated
- 2 tsp chili bean paste (or chili-garlic paste)
- ½ cucumber
- 2 tbsp. roasted peanuts
- 100g (3 oz) fine green or yellow beans
- 200g (7oz.) medium egg noodles
- a bunch of spring onions, trimmed
- 1 tbsp. groundnut oil
Pound the sesame seeds in pestle and mortar almost to a paste. In a small bowl mix together the paste, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic and chili bean paste for the sauce.
Cut the cucumber into matchsticks and set aside. Chop the peanuts roughly, set aside.
Top and tail the beans and cut them in half, to about the same length as the cucumber sticks. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, plunge the beans in and cook for 5 minutes, until tender-crunchy. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Keep the water on the boil for the noodles; add them in and cook or soak for 2-3 minutes or according to the packet instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water and toss with a splash of sesame oil.
Cut the spring onions into about 5cm (2in) long pieces. Heat up the groundnut oil in the wok over medium heat, add the spring onions. Fry for a few seconds and turn the heat up.
Add the drained noodles and stir fry them with the onions for a couple of minutes, or longer if you’d like them crispy. Add the beans and toss them with the noodles.
Pour the sauce into the wok and stir into the noodles; turn down the heat. When the noodles are evenly coated, divide them between serving bowls, garnish with peanuts and cucumber and serve immediately.