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6.08.2005

Drawn-out days and noodle nights

Though the topic has already been amply covered by countless wistful love ballads, I’d like to bring something to your attention: the loveliness that is a summer night. Call me a sap—you wouldn’t be the first—but there’s something primordially good about a clear, warm night. Everything thrums—from locusts, the soundtrack of summer, to mosquitoes, the season’s scourge. Even the skin pricks up and hums when warm air rubs softly against it. An icy bottle sheds welcome droplets down the inside of the arm, and the tongue begs for salt, preferably in the form of something cool, slippery, and delivered via chopsticks. Yes, I’ve been eating noodles again, redundancy be damned.



Granted, early-summer Seattle is a bit slow to heat up, but the days make up for their thermometric shortcomings by doing double-time on the clock. Sunrise comes at five in the morning, and sunset, in no mood to hurry, follows sixteen hours later. With each day, the light stays a bit longer, as though too lazy to leave at anything but a slow crawl. Such long, drawn-out days make for long, drawn-out evenings, perfect for simple, leisurely cooking and even more leisurely lingering at the table. All of this points inevitably to big bowls of cold noodles—at least until it points inevitably to late-summer tomato bread salads, any number of things involving pesto and fresh figs, and variations on the theme of avocado.

Last week, I slurped down filmy, translucent rice noodles and sang a song of fish sauce, but today I’m trading Southeast Asia for China. In this week’s routine, I’ve slicked skinny noodles with sesame oil, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar, revved them up with hot red pepper oil and soothed them with a good dose of sugar. For a welcome grounding among such high-pitched flavors, there’s a soft hunk of roasted eggplant, a ribbon of blanched snow pea or julienned carrot, or the watery relief of a mung bean sprout. Each chopstickful is salty and sweet, clean and nutty, crisp and yielding. I can’t think of a better way to settle into the rhythm of summer, or to set everything thrumming.


Chinese Noodle Salad with Roasted Eggplant
Adapted from The Greens Cookbook

Though I did a brief stint in the kitchen at Greens, it was my half-sister Lisa who introduced me to this delicious recipe. Despite its relatively long list of ingredients, this salad is very easy to prepare, and as an added bonus, the noodles and eggplant will keep well for several days in the refrigerator. For seasonal variations, try adding blanched asparagus tips or garnishing with slivered French breakfast radishes.



For the dressing and the noodles:
7 Tbs toasted sesame oil
7 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari)
3 Tbs balsamic vinegar
3 Tbs sugar
2 ½ tsp salt (or less; this seems like a lot, so I've experimented with using as little as 1 tsp)
1 Tbs red pepper oil
8-10 scallions, thinly sliced into rounds
3 Tbs cilantro, chopped
1 lb spaghetti (the original recipe calls for thin fresh Chinese egg noodles, but I’ve found simple spaghetti to yield just as tasty a result; please forgive the lack of authenticity)

For the eggplant and vegetable garnishes:
1 lb firm, shiny Japanese or Chinese eggplants
1 Tbs fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Reserved dressing
1 cup snow peas, strings removed
½ lb mung bean sprouts
3 Tbs sesame seeds, toasted in a skillet until lightly colored
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
Cilantro leaves

Begin by making the dressing. Combine all the dressing ingredients (except the noodles, of course) in a bowl, and stir them together until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring a large pot of (unsalted) water to a boil, and add the noodles. Cook until done but not overly soft; then immediately pour them into a colander. Rinse them with cold water to cool them, and then shake the colander to remove excess water. Transfer the noodles to a large bowl. Stir the dressing again; then pour half of it over the cooked noodles, tossing them with your hands to distribute the dressing evenly. Set aside the remaining dressing. If the noodles aren’t to be used for a while, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate to allow the flavors to develop.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pierce the eggplants in several places, and bake them on a rimmed baking sheet until they are soft and their skins have shriveled, 20-30 minutes, depending on their size. When the eggplants are ready, slice them in half lengthwise, and leave them on the baking sheet to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin away from the flesh and shred the flesh into rough strips. Add the ginger and garlic to the reserved dressing, and then add the eggplant strips. Stir the mixture well to thoroughly coat the eggplant.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the snow peas, and cook them until they are bright green, about 20-30 seconds. Remove them with tongs or a strainer, and rinse them with cool water. Cut them into long, thin strips, and set them aside. Next, put the sprouts into the boiling water, and allow them to cook for about 30 seconds. Pour them into a colander, rinse them with cold water, and lay them on a layer of paper towels to dry.

If the noodles have been refrigerated, allow them to come to room temperature; then toss them with the eggplant and reserved dressing, as well as half of the sesame seeds. Mound them in a wide bowl or on a platter, and distribute the snow peas, mung bean sprouts, and carrots over them. Garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and a few branches of cilantro. Once served, guests can toss the noodles and vegetables together to thoroughly mingle the textures and flavors.

Serves four to eight, depending on accompaniments.

22 Comments:

Anonymous Melissa said...

Beautifully said - you're making me terribly homesick for Pacific Northwest summers, where the warmth always seems twice as pleasurable after waiting so many months for it... You know, I used to cook a lot from the Greens cookbook, but I've never made this recipe. Something tells me I'm going to soon!

7:15 AM, June 09, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

Listen: it's inappropriate to drool at one's office desk. You must cease with these mouth watering summer recipes. Or I must exercise will power and stop reading your blog at work, and, frankly, I just don't see that happening. Now I will be having noodles for lunch (Malaysian peanut, with pineapple and red onion from a local restaurant) and will plan on a noodle dinner very soon!

8:44 AM, June 09, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Molly, I can eat this everyday!

10:19 AM, June 09, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Melissa, today Seattle hit the mid-60s, and it feels incredible. Ahhhh. Maybe it's time for a visit?

TanTian, I hope you had a napkin or towel nearby. I'm so sorry to have been the cause of such uncouth behavior! On the upside, your lunch sounds rather drool-worthy itself...mmmm.

Keiko, I've been doing just that! I took the dregs (sniffle sniffle, it's all gone) to work for lunch today, and even straight from the Tupperware, it was luscious.

3:33 PM, June 09, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Well you had me blushing at the first paragraph. Who would have thought noodles could sound so..sexy. Between Melissa and her hot and foxy sweet potatoes and you with your naughty noodles, it's going to be one interesting summer!

11:55 PM, June 09, 2005  
Blogger margrocks said...

oh, thank you molly for your evocative words and photographs. they almost make this new york city summer more bearable - a chopstickful of cold noodles.

i think i need to visit the northwest soon. this convection-oven-thing nyc has goin' on is for the birds...

4:01 PM, June 10, 2005  
Blogger Yaniverse said...

I loved the post... but it made me hungry now.

3:51 PM, June 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had an "Orangette" weekend...Jimmy's Dutch babies and this Chinese noodle recipe. They were both hits and are now part of my permanent rotation. Thanks!

Liv

5:10 PM, June 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Summer has not yet arrived in Amsterdam, but I made this last night while listening to the rain pour down outside. It was a veritable hit! I used fish in place of the aubergine, but will give the original a spin some day soon. Thank you!

4:24 AM, June 13, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

I found this amusing - I was watching Nigella's Forever Summer yesterday and she was making the vinaigrette for a rice salad. As soon as she reached for fish sauce, I thought "Molly".

6:12 AM, June 13, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Well, Michele, I do what I can! And yes, it *is* going to be interesting.

Margrocks, thank you! As a matter of fact, I've been sweating it out in that convection oven that is NYC since last Friday morning, and though I do love it, I dare say that an injection of Seattle weather could help things around here. Pant, pant...

Thank you, Yaniverse!

Liv, I'm so glad to hear it. Thanks for trying the recipes and reporting back so enthusiastically.

Anonymous, I'm happy to hear that the Chinese noodles were enjoyed over there in Amsterdam! Your fish variation sounds delicious--what type did you use?

And Tara, that's too funny. I'm honored.

6:39 AM, June 14, 2005  
Anonymous gemma said...

I echo Melissa, I love to read the bits you post about the Northwest weather (in addition to everything else of course). I miss it out there. The summers are so lovely.

11:53 AM, June 20, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my god, Molly, can I marry you? Please? I'm not sure what my boyfriend will think, but no matter ...

I made this yesterday for a big lunch we had, with 15 people, and I really think it was the most delicious thing I have ever made, no exaggeration. I tripled the recipe, which was more than adequate, but all the better since now there are leftovers, flavors melding deliciously in the fridge till I descend upon them in an hour!

I substituted regular eggplant, which worked just fine, although of course it took a bit longer to roast. I substituted some julienned zucchini for the snowpeas (I couldn't bear to buy the tired dry shrink-wrapped peas at the deli. I felt like the crunchy sweet snap peas which are like kudzu right now at the farmers market might descend upon me with swords while I slept, if they discovered my betrayal.) which was tasty tasty. I added some julienned fresh red pepper too.

You're right, it wasn't very complicated, and the boiling and cooling of the pasta and the roasting of the eggplant leaves ample time for all the veggie prep. But it was quite labor-intensive -- and more so, of course, because I was chopping triple the veggies.

I try out lots of recipes from lots of food blogs, and it's always a joyful ride, but you should know that the recipes you share are, without exception, my favorites. I don't know you but I trust your goût completely. Thank you!

peace
Lisa

8:54 AM, June 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Gemma, this week's weather has been a bit temperamental, but today is sunny with a high of 72. Ahhh. Hurry on over!

And Lisa, thank you! I'm blushing. And I'm so glad to hear that you liked--or rather, loved--the noodles, and your substitutions sound perfect. Enjoy those leftovers...

10:08 AM, June 23, 2005  
Anonymous Dave said...

Lots of hand-sized pieces for the kid. I'll be trying this one (and my daughter loves (to throw) spaghetti. Thanks!

12:02 PM, June 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

You're welcome, Dave. I hope that Frankie likes it--or at least gets some fun out of throwing it!

10:15 PM, June 23, 2005  
Blogger Samarahuel said...

I tried this the other night. I could only get regular eggplant and had to do without the sprouts, but it was ok. I halved the recipe and still have a big bowl left in my fridge! I thought it was ok, but the eggplant really absorbed the dressing, making bites of it a bit too strong. This was my first experience with eggplant really, and I don't know if I really dig the texture...is that just how eggplant is, or are there other ways of preparing it? My husband didn't like it much; it was a salad of things he doesn't really like. Bummer. I have a hard time thinking of meals he'll enjoy without heating up the kitchen in the summer and weighing down our tummies with hearty, heavy foods. I don't know if I'll make this again, but I guess I do have a question regarding the eggplant: what am I supposed to do with the seeds? I tried to get as many of them out of & off the pieces of flesh as I could, but are we supposed to eat them?

1:35 AM, August 07, 2008  
Blogger Clare said...

LOVED this! Seriously, loved it.
My hubbie and I decided that we need to eat it at least once a week, and that says a lot. Once again, another fabulous recipe from your blog.
THANK YOU!

5:10 PM, January 03, 2009  
Anonymous Jessica said...

Molly, I remember seeing this recipe on your blog back when you first posted it. I was 19 then and completely unfamiliar with eggplant, but I remember seeing your photos and deciding I had to try this dish. I made it and loved it, and 4 years later I'm a bonafide foodie and loved it just as much when I made it recently. In my opinion, eggplant is one of the most perfect foods, so thanks for helping to open my eyes to that!

6:13 PM, January 26, 2009  
Anonymous deepali said...

Just made this for dinner! Was absolutely delicious-- thanks for the recipe!

6:44 PM, April 21, 2009  
Blogger Lindsey said...

I have had this bookmarked for years, and never seemed to get around to trying it. The other night I made it for my boyfriend after he had been working hard on a project all day and he was so excited when he saw it. We absolutely loved it and agreed that it will have to enter our regular rotation. Thank you so much for sharing another great recipe!

5:10 PM, November 08, 2009  
Blogger Elaine said...

I am so excited to be visiting Olympia in Aug. Will be able to come to Seattle - Pike St Mkt, Internat'l District, and go to Victoria, perhaps Vancouver.
Love the Pacific NW. Graduated from Pacific Lutheran Univ in Tacoma.
Elaine

11:40 PM, June 07, 2010  

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