Well, folks, it was hotter than a pressure cooker down here in Austin last week, but that doesn't mean it's not a fine time to chow down on some noodles. Somewhere, sometime, way back in the before, somebody tried eating their noodles cold. A stroke of genius? A late night snack? We may never know.
What matters is that since that time folks in Japan, China, and other Far-Eastern lands have been inventing flavorful dishes of chilly noodles and crisp vegetables, flavored with light and delicious sauces. The first cold noodles I ever ate were soba. Back in my Sushi Yoshi days, our chef added Cold Soba with Cucumbers and Ponzu Sauce to our Summer menu. Our lunch crowd wasn't entirely enthusiastic about the idea of cold, slippery noodles, but I was enthralled. The nutty flavor of the soba clashed against the cool, crisp astringency of julienne cucumber, dripping in a subtle, but fragrant ponzu dressing. Shredded nori, sliced scallion, and toasted black sesame seeds were sprinkled over the top of the noodles, which were served on a beautiful tray of bamboo and black laquer.
Whenever I see cold noodles on a menu, those are the noodles I dream about. Rarely does a restaurant dish live up to that expectation. Often, the sauce is too subtle, the noodles are stiff or slimy, or the toppings are wilted and tasteless. When a dish is served cold the seasonings and flavors need to be stronger than they would in a hot recipe. There is no steam, or warmth to carry the aromas in the dish. Almost every flavor will be subdued, which is important to keep in mind when adding seasoning and spices.
As you know, I have a real thing for ramen. This recipe is a hack on Maruchen Ramen, but you can use any ramen you like, even fresh ramen if you are so lucky/ambitious. Ramen noodles are great for cold dishes because they retain their taste and texture fairly well. They are chewy and springy, where other noodles can be a bit slimy or slippery. If you want to make a gluten free version of this recipe, you can try using rice noodles, or quinoa spaghetti instead. Just cook whatever noodles you use according to the package directions.
A note on the chili paste: I used a very small amount of hot chili paste in this recipe. In fact, it is such a small amount that you'll barely detect the heat. If you like a kick to your noodles, don't be afraid to add a little more.
Cold Slaw Ramen
Makes about 4 serivings
- 2 packages of Ramen Noodles
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup carrots, shredded
- 4 scallions, shredded or sliced
- 1 teaspoon cooking oil
- salt & pepper
- 2 tablespoons ponzu sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons mirin
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon hot chili paste
- 2 teaspoons sweet jam or juice (I used peach jam)
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- Cook the ramen noodles in boiling water for 2 - 3 minutes, or until they just become tender. Drain the noodles when cooked, and rinse immediately with cold water.
- Toss the noodles with 1 teaspoon of cooking oil, and a dash of salt and pepper.
- Put a second pot of water on, and bring it to a boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the shredded cabbage. Boil the cabbage for exactly one minute, then add the carrots. Boil for one more minute, then drain. Rinse immeditely with cold water.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the ponzu, vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, ginger, hot chili paste, jam/juice, and garlic.
- Combine the dressing, veggies, noodles and sesame seeds in a large bowl, and toss them gently.