Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cruising the Food Blogs: Peanut Sesame Noodles

This afternoon I made a trip to one of my favorite food stores: Super Cao Nguyen in Oklahoma City. A business which originally started as a much smaller Vietnamese grocery store, Super Cao has grown into a huge store with items from all over the world. It's always a humbling experience. Why? Most times I feel fairly confident that I have a good basic grasp of many of the major cuisines of the world. Then I go to Super Cao and I look at about 70% of the stuff and think, "What the hell???" Buying food there is particularly adventurous when many of the labels for the Asian ingredients have only the most cursory details in English. Fried food starch, what's that? Coconut--is that coconut milk, flaked coconut, coconut oil? And what the heck is "Tokyo flavor" ramen? Chicken? Fish? Pork? Squid? If nothing else, it certainly provides for a diverting hour or two of reading labels. They have lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, some of which I don't recognize even though I have been to this store many times.

When Super Cao was in the much smaller location, the clientele seemed primarily Asian. Now it's a mix of Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and plain old Caucasian. I notice that they now hire employees from all these different ethnic groups, perhaps so there are employees who are familiar with the diverse cuisines. In any case, it's always an adventure.

Today I was primarily on a noodle run. My kids and I love rice cakes--not the kind that are puffy and crunchy. These are rice cakes which are used in Korean and sometimes Chinese cuisine--flat oblong disks probably made mostly of rice flour and water. When cooked in a stir-fry or a soup, they turn into wonderful chewy treasures which take on the flavor of the dish they are in. I also picked up some udon and other assorted noodles, including some precooked Chinese egg noodles. Since decent rice is ridiculously expensive at my usual grocery store, I got good rice (Jasmine and Calrose) as well. And what the heck, some curry, naan, ramen, gochujang (a spicy Korean chili paste), and fresh vegetables.

So, after that trip, tonight I decided to make Peanut Sesame Noodles. There are many recipes out there, but I started with this one from one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I swear, everything Deb Perelman makes looks absolutely delicious. Her recipe was adapted from one which appeared in Gourmet magazine in June, 2002. You can find it here. What you're getting here is my adaptation of the recipe that appears at Smitten Kitchen.

To begin, I made the peanut dressing by sticking pretty closely to the recipe:
1/2 C smooth peanut butter
1/4 C soy sauce
1/3 C warm water
1 T chopped fresh ginger (peel it first)
3 small garlic cloves (Smitten Kitchen calls for 1 medium, but I like garlic)
2 T rice vinegar
1 1/2 T sesame oil
1 T honey
a dash of red pepper flakes (Smitten Kitchen calls for 1 T, which would have been great but then my kids wouldn't have eaten it...)

Buzz the whole thing up in a blender for about two minutes.

Next, I chopped up some veggies and tofu. I ended up with roughly:
4 green onions, thinly sliced
6 baby carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
about 1 1/2 cups sliced tofu--I like to use a puffy fried tofu that I get at Super Cao

The recipe at Smitten Kitchen calls for 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced, regular extra-firm tofu, and sesame seeds, but 1) the kids won't eat peppers, 2) I like the fried puffy tofu and 3) I totally forgot to buy more sesame seeds. Oops.

Now for the noodles. I intended to buy uncooked Chinese egg noodles. What I ended up buying was precooked Chinese egg noodles. Which just goes to show is that, even when you are carefully reading ingredients it is possible to not notice the big statement on the package that says you are buying cooked noodles. *sigh*
See that nice red line with the words "Cooked Noodle" on it? Yeah. 

Anyway, I rinsed my precooked noodles in some cold water. I used about a package and a half, which is about 1 1/2 pounds. The original recipe called for 3/4 pound dried soba. The texture of the precooked noodles was a little spongy, but edible. Cooking my own would have been better.

Finally, put the noodles in the bowl with the other stuff, pour over the peanut sesame dressing and toss everything together. You'll get something that looks like this:

It would be more colorful with peppers. It turned out pretty tasty, though. Daughter ate a fair bit. Son turned up his nose because no ketchup was involved. Husband liked it.

Post script: Why am I holding the bowl in the above picture? Because by the time I finished my kitchen counter was so messy I would have had to clean it up before being able to take a picture of the bowl. And who wants to clean off the counter when you're starving?

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