We had a brutally hot start to the summer here in NYC, and eating a hot supper was the furthest thing from my mind. Still, I was getting hungry and wanted to eat something, as long as it wasn’t hot. Then it occurred to me — cold spicy noodles. Yes, I was craving cold spicy noodles and I would not rest until I had them. I knew exactly how I wanted them to taste — somewhere between the cold Szechuan noodles at Lucky Vegetarian (which may be my favorite cold noodles in all of NYC) and Xian Famous Foods liang pi (which is a close second). I just wasn’t sure how to get what I wanted. I started mentally cataloguing what I thought would be involved — black vinegar for the tang, chili paste for heat, soy sauce for seasoning, maybe some tahini for the sesame flavor, plus shredded cucumbers and tofu for texture and nutrition. I cobbled together a version with all of those things, and although it was delicious the texture wasn’t quite right. It was more like cold sesame noodles, the kind you can find at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I wanted more, though, so I resorted to searching the internet for an answer. The answer, it turned out, was water. Not just water, but water was the key. I’ve made it again twice now, with a few variations, and it’s great no matter what the weather. Here’s how I did it.
In a small pot bring a half cup of water to boil, along with a tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a heaping tablespoon of five-spice powder. When it boils stir it together to make sure the ingredients are well incorporated, then turn off the heat and let it cool.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare your favorite long noodle. I’ve used both rice noodles and wheat noodles for this, and both work great. Prepare them as per the package directions, then drain and rinse under cold water until they get to room temperature. Let them drain until completely dry.
In a large bowl or measuring cup combine a half cup of Chinese black vinegar, a few splashes of soy sauce, and your favorite chili paste or chili oil. I’m partial to Spicy Chili Crisp but anything you like will work fine. Also add some thinly sliced scallions or shallots, and finally two heaping tablespoons of tahini. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients into a paste. Then ad the seasoned water, and stir it all up again. Check for seasoning and spiciness and adjust as needed. This thinned out sauce will better coat the noodles, and ti pools in your bowl so the noodles at the bottom soak in it.
To top the noodles you’ll need some thinly sliced vegetables. Cucumbers work well, as do carrots and celery. If you want some protein you can julienne some baked or pressed tofu as well. I also recommend more scallions, and some cilantro if you like it.
Put the cooled noodles into a bowl and pour the sauce over them (reserving some for later). Garnish with your choice of the veggies and/or tofu and mix well before consuming.