I once overheard a conversation between two French men. One of them had just returned from Japan and was telling his companion that he had been served cold noodles. 'Tres bizarre!' said the other.
I actually love cold - or room-temperature - noodles; they're remarkably refreshing when it's sweltering outside.
Bibim naengmyeon (pictured)
This dish (which goes by many spellings) can be easily adapted to ingredients you have on hand - the only essentials are noodles, the sauce and a hard-boiled egg. I also like it with chopped kimchi and shredded cucumber, although other vegetables can be used instead. If you want to make the dish a little more substantial, add some leftover plainly cooked beef or chicken. I love the chewy texture of sweet potato noodles, but if you like, substitute buckwheat noodles.
2 large eggs
500 grams sweet potato noodles
About 125 grams cabbage kimchi, drained
1 long, slim cucumber
Toasted sesame seeds
For the sauce:
80 grams gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
40ml corn syrup
20ml soy sauce
10ml sesame oil
10ml rice vinegar
10 grams sugar
Cooked meat, sliced or shredded
Julienned nashi pear
Julienned white radish (loh bok)
Cucumber and cabbage kimchi, for serving
Put the eggs in a small saucepan, add cold water to cover them by 1cm, then place over a medium flame. Bring to the boil, then cover the pan with the lid, remove from the heat and leave for 10 minutes. Drain the eggs and rinse thoroughly with cold running water. Crack the shells all over, then leave the eggs in a pan of ice water while preparing the other ingredients.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the sweet potato noodles and cook until tender (less than five minutes). Drain, then rinse with cold water, mixing and rubbing them with your hands until they no longer feel slimy. Leave them in a pan of ice water while preparing the other ingredients.
Mix the gochujang with the corn syrup to form a smooth paste. Mix in the other ingredients, then taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Squeeze the kimchi with your hands to remove most of the liquid. Roughly chop the kimchi. Finely julienne the cucumber.
Drain the noodles and divide them between four bowls. Put some of the chopped kimchi and shredded cucumber into each portion, then add a large spoonful of the sauce. Remove the shell from the hard-boiled eggs and cut them in half; top each portion with half an egg. Add the optional ingredients, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve, letting each diner mix the sauce and other ingredients into the noodles.
Grilled Vietnamese meatballs with rice noodles
This meatball recipe is adapted from one in The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam by Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman. Although it looks like a long process, it's not; the meatball mixture can be made a day or two in advance and then grilled right before you're ready to serve the noodles.
For the meatballs:
500 grams fresh, slightly fatty pork (from the leg or shoulder), trimmed of the tough membranes and silverskin
25ml bottled fish sauce
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
1/4 tsp fine-grained sea salt
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp roasted rice powder
Cooking oil, for the grill
For the fish sauce:
120ml Vietnamese bottled fish sauce
30-45ml fresh lime juice
15-30ml rice vinegar
About 10 grams granulated sugar
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 chopped red chillies, or to taste
About 50 grams grated carrot
50ml cold bottled still water
For the noodles and to serve:
500 grams thin rice noodles
60ml cooking oil
5-6 spring onions, minced
80 grams dry-roasted peanuts, roughly crushed
Fresh mint leaves and Thai basil
Shredded lettuce and grated carrot
Thinly slice the meat, then mix it thoroughly with the fish sauce, garlic, shallot, salt, sugar, pepper and rice powder. Cover the bowl with cling-film and refrigerate for at least two hours. Place the bowl in the freezer and leave for 30 minutes, or until partially frozen. Stir the ingredients thoroughly, then process half of the mixture to a smooth paste in a food processor. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, then process the rest of the meat. Use your hands to roughly mix, stir and beat the meatball paste, occasionally lifting it and throwing it back into the bowl, until the meat develops protein strands (you'll see them). Pan fry a small amount of the mixture in a skillet and taste for seasonings; adjust, if needed. With slightly damp hands, shape the mixture into meatballs about 2.5cm in diameter, lay them on a cling-film-lined baking tray and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Make the fish sauce by combining the bottled fish sauce with the lime juice and rice vinegar, then stirring in the sugar until dissolved. Add the garlic, chilli and carrot then taste for seasoning; add more lime juice or sugar, if needed. Stir in about 50ml of cold water (if it seems too strong, add more water).
For the noodles, heat the cooking oil in a small pan. Stir in the spring onion and cook over a low flame until they're just starting to take on a little colour and the oil is fragrant. Remove from the heat. Boil the rice noodles until they're just tender. Drain them, rinse with cold running water, then drain again and shake dry. Add the spring onion-oil mixture and mix thoroughly to coat the noodles.
Thread the meatballs onto flat metal skewers then barbecue on a lightly oiled grill until cooked through and charred in spots. Remove them from the skewers.
Divide the rice noodles between four bowls. Add some shredded lettuce, grated carrot, fresh herbs and crushed peanuts to each bowl. Add some meatballs and fish sauce and serve immediately.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee