Dear Sam Sifton,
You are the best person ever.
I just made his cold sesame noodles and then I died because they were SO GOOD and I was SO EXCITED THAT I MADE SOMETHING THAT TASTES GOOD. I AM GOING TO EAT THESE NONSTOP FOREVER.
Anyway, so it is ridiculously hot in New York these days and I decided I should try making cold sesame noodles, even though I’ve never actually eaten them. After extensive research I settled on this recipe, mostly because I love Sam Sifton (ah, the roller coaster of emotions when he was appointed restaurant critic, and then again when he stopped being the restaurant critic).
To go with them, I decided on an Asian-ish vegetable stir-fry with tofu. The stir-fry was made up; I figured it should involve snap peas, because I love snap peas, and baby bok choy. I also bought scallions and then discovered they weren’t in the sesame noodle recipe, so I included them in the stir fry. For the bok choy, I cut the ends off and then just sliced them; I broke up the stems a bit more so I wouldn’t have huge bites of them. (See note below.) For the snap peas, I de-stringed them—you just pull the little string thingy and they sort of unzip; it’s very satisfying—and broke them in half.
I stir-fried the baby bok choy, scallions, and snap peas with garlic, ginger, and a little soy sauce and toasted sesame oil (not enough of either, actually). I pan-fried the tofu until golden. For some reason I thought it would mingle with the vegetables, which would impart their flavor to it; but then I just ate it plain, which was sort of gross, but serviceable, I guess.
After the vegetables had stir-fried and the tofu was sitting in the pan browning, I put the water up to boil and began assembling the sauce: sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar (mine happens to be seasoned, because back when I bought it I couldn’t find the plain variety; this just gave it an extra spicy kick, which I liked), sesame paste (I used tahini, which is not the same as Chinese sesame paste because the sesame seeds are not toasted first; I just added some extra toasted sesame oil to make up for it, as Sam suggests), peanut butter, sugar, ginger, garlic, chili-garlic paste (mine is this sort of sketchy “Chili Sauce” that I got forever ago at a Japanese grocery store on a whim).
I should note that God punished me for buying pre-grated ginger by making it so hard to open that I almost injured myself. It took forever, and was painful. But at least I didn’t have to grate ginger. (Ditto the garlic, and the tahini, and the peanut butter. Everything was impossible to open. It was weird and stressful.) (Actually, for the peanut butter, I ran it under very hot water for a while to loosen it. When I finally got it open—it’s a glass jar, by the way—there was all this liquid on top, and I was like, ew, the hot water somehow got in, so I drained it. This was a mistake; it was just peanut oil, and now the rest of my peanut butter is dessicated and thick and lumpy.)
I whisked it together. The lo mein noodles cooked. (Fairway always has lots of Roland brand stuff. I’m not necessarily endorsing Roland; it’s just what I usually buy because it is there.) Things were mixed together. I waited until after I’d eaten most of the vegetables to try the sesame noodles because I was scared they would be bad, but then I tried it and pretty much went AAAAAAHAG;LRIGU AAAAAA. They were good. I want a lot more.
Sesame Noodles—not adapted at all from Sam Sifton’s recipe, unless you count inaccurate measuring to be adapting
Bok Choy stir-fry—there’s really no recipe. I used Steamy Kitchen’s guide to bok choy because I don’t know much about bok choy (I should read her blog more). Basically I just put things in a very large nonstick pan, because I do not own a single stick pan, which I think is bad, and stirred for a while. If you’re curious and want to make this better, read The Kitchn’s extensive tutorial on stir-frying. I think I’ll add something spicy to the rest of the week’s portions—would chili oil be overkill?? It just needs something.
One note: I have a bizarrely well-stocked pantry in terms of Asian ingredients, as I may have mentioned before. I think the most important things to keep around are soy sauce, rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil; a lot of recipes call for different types of soy sauce (light and dark—NOT lite, just “light”), but I don’t, though I guess I don’t know how badly that impacts my recipes. Ginger can be purchased as needed—I have in the past snapped a knob of ginger off a larger root at the grocery store. I suppose some of the more obscure sauces are useful to have if your life goal is to master Chinese food, as mine is—chili-garlic sauce, black bean sauce, hoisin sauce. I’ve also been meaning to buy actual rice wine, but have yet to do so.