I have a confession to make: I love instant noodles. But because so many people say they're not good for our health, I try to limit myself to one or two packs a week. There's no denying their convenience, though, so I've come up with some alternatives that are almost as quick to prepare.
Cold noodles with Sichuan chilli paste (pictured)
I keep a jar of this sauce in my fridge and whenever I want a quick meal, I boil some dried Chinese wheat noodles, drain them and add a dollop of the sauce and a few toppings.
Make the sauce at least one day before you want to use it to give the flavours time to blend and mellow. Serve with cucumbers seasoned with garlic and sesame oil - the cool vegetable tempers the heat of the chilli paste.
5 grams Sichuan peppercorns
2 tsp sesame seeds
120 grams sesame paste
60ml dark soy sauce
10ml light soy sauce
40ml Chinese black vinegar
10-15 grams granulated sugar
3 large garlic cloves
About 50 grams spring onions, minced
Chilli oil, to taste
Salt, if needed
Sesame oil, to taste
Chinese wheat noodles
Put the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry (unoiled) pan, place over a medium flame and stir constantly until the peppercorns darken slightly, then transfer them to a small bowl. In the same pan, stir the sesame seeds over a medium flame until they smell toasted, then add them to the Sichuan peppercorns.
Put the sesame paste, dark and light soy sauces, vinegar, sugar, garlic, spring onions, Sichuan peppercorns and sesame seeds in a blender or food processor and blitz into a smooth paste. Add chilli oil and salt to taste. Scrape the paste into a small jar and level the surface. Add just enough sesame oil to coat the surface then cover the jar with the lid and refrigerate for at least one day. (It keeps in the fridge for several weeks.)
When it's time to eat, boil enough noodles for the number of people you're serving, then drain. Mix in enough sauce to lightly coat the noodles then divide between bowls. Drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and minced spring onion. Serve immediately, with garlic and sesame cucumbers.
Garlic and sesame cucumbers
These cucumbers are a staple in my fridge and go very well with both of these noodle recipes. It's important to choose thin cucumbers about 2cm in diameter, not the large watery ones with tough seeds.
The cucumbers are "smashed" with the flat side of a cleaver, rather than neatly sliced, to allow the seasoning to penetrate the flesh better.
500 grams cucumbers
About 10 grams fine sea salt
2-3 large garlic cloves, sliced
About 15ml sesame oil
Lay the cucumbers on a cutting board and drape with cling-film, to lessen the splatter when you smash them. Firmly whack the cucumbers with the side of a cleaver until they roughly break apart lengthways. Cut the cucumbers into 6cm lengths and place into a bowl.
Sprinkle with salt and mix until the cucumber pieces are evenly coated. Set aside for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When they're ready, the cucumbers will be bendable. Drain them in a colander and use paper towels to blot up excess moisture. If they taste too salty, rinse briefly with cold water, then drain and blot with paper towels. Put the cucumbers in a bowl, add the garlic and sesame oil, and mix well.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before eating. They keep in the fridge for about 10 days.
Like the first recipe, this sauce takes only a couple of minutes to make and keeps well in the fridge. I like to serve it with a hard-boiled egg and chopped kimchi. With this sauce, I love the slippery, chewy texture of Korean sweet potato noodles, and the softer texture of buckwheat noodles. For a more substantial meal, add cooked shredded chicken or beef.
For the sauce:
120 grams gochujang (Korean red-pepper paste)
60ml corn syrup
30ml soy sauce
15ml sesame oil
15ml rice vinegar
15 grams sugar
Toasted sesame seeds
Sweet potato or buckwheat noodles
To make the sauce, whisk together all the ingredients, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, and store in a jar in the fridge.
If you're serving the sauce with sweet potato noodles, boil the noodles until tender then drain in a colander. Rinse with cold running water, rubbing and tossing the noodles until the water runs clear, not foamy. For buckwheat noodles, boil until tender, then drain.
Mix in enough sauce to lightly coat the noodles then divide between bowls. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds then add half a hard-boiled egg and some chopped cabbage kimchi to each portion.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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