A recipe from the sands of last summer:
On a hot summer evening with a storm hanging dormant in the sky, what could be better than sitting with your sweetie by an open window with a bowl of cold somen noodles in peanut sauce?
It’s just as good warm on a cold night, on its own in a big shallow dish or, as here, served alongside a surprisingly suitable meal scrounged from the contents of Mom’s freezer and fridge: shrimp cakes with scallions and sesame oil, asparagus blanched and rolled in a sliver of butter, and a tangle of julienned cucumber dressed with rice wine vinegar and chiles.
Scoop about 2/3 c. of smooth peanut butter (real peanut butter made with peanuts and oil and salt and nothing else) into a nice big bowl, along with a generous spoonful of tahini paste. Add a dollop of hoisin sauce for smokiness and a generous squirt of
scirocco Shakira chiascurro Rooster sauce for heat and depth. Put in plenty of toasted sesame oil, a clove or two of minced garlic, and several grinds of black pepper. Pour in a shot glass or two of rice wine vinegar. Don’t be stingy with the tamari.
Now, in your garlic press, place several slices of frozen ginger root. (You should have thought of this yesterday!) SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE with all your might over the bowl, and watch the pale ginger juice stream out. Push the mangled bits of ginger around with the tip of a knife, and once again, squeeeeeze, but this time without so much EEEEEEE. Discard the mangled ginger, replace with fresh slices, and repeat.
Stir everything together and dip in your finger for a taste. How is it? Nothing special? No, of course not. First you have to add the scallions: several, shredded fine. Beat them mercilessly into the sauce. Thin with water, so the sauce is loose, not gloppy. Taste again. Hmm? Mmmmmm. Remember that it’s going over bland noodles, so make it zingy, fiery, and salty.
In a few drops of oil, saute 4 or 5 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of curry powder until they start to smell rich and delicious. Add to peanut sauce.
In the same pan, toast two handfuls of unsalted peanuts, chopped, until they produce a rich peanut fragrance. Remove from heat.
In boiling water, blanch a handful of snowpeas for just a minute or two, long enough to raise their green to a luscious emerald and to soften their snap to a crispy crunch. Shock in ice water, then drain. Repeat this with at least one handful, and more if you like, of broccoli trimmed into delicate florets, and the coarse stems, skinned and julienned.
Slice the peapods on the bias into tiny slivers. (I use scissors for this, as the pods tend to slip and skid on my cutting board.) Grate or julienne two carrots and two inches of English cucumber. Dump all the vegetables into the sauce bowl and stir.
While a large pot of water heats to boiling, think about your choices: use the noodles designated solely (and alluringly) as “alimentary paste”? or those labelled “flour stick” (obligatory catchy slogan: “Once Tasted Ever Wanted!”)? Decide on
alimentary paste somen. Follow package directions to cook, rinse, and drain. Using tongs or two wooden spoons, toss with sauce and half of chopped peanuts until noodles are coated.
Serve warm on a cold night, or chill in fridge several hours or overnight to serve cold. In the summer, I like to cook this in the cool of the morning and congratulate myself all day long at the thought of cool silky noodle salad waiting for dinner.
Serve in shallow bowls, garnished with remaining peanuts and, if desired, shredded scallions.
Soon someday, I’ll detail the simplest, best pan-fried tofu recipe, which makes a stellar addition to this dish.