This dinner really could be anything. It’s clearly noodles, carrots, and broccoli, but what’s so great about that? It’s impossible to tell, looking at the picture, what kind of a dish this is. What’s it spiced with? Is it just some spaghetti?
Well, my friends, the answer is no. I’m here to tell you that these are fried noodles. It’s a recipe I made up and damn, it is good. Also, there’s a piece of broccoli about to fall out of that bowl. Yeah, I know.
It turns out that there are two ways to approach cooking for one person. There’s the strategy where you make a normal-sized amount of food and then eat it for several meals. Then, there’s the way where you make just enough dinner for one person; needless to say, the one-person dinners usually aren’t too fancy.
I’ve used both strategies, but recently I’ve been even busier than usual and just too disorganized to make a big batch of anything, so I’ve had a lot of spaghetti nights. At some point, you get sick of spaghetti, and I’ve come to learn that it’s really important to have some good base ingredients in the refrigerator. Then, you can grab a vegetable from the store on your way home and have several potential directions for a quick and easy dinner. Tomato sauce? Asian food? Breakfast for dinner? A great sandwich? All of a sudden, you have options for a one-person dinner that doesn’t suck.
A couple of nights ago I decided to end my most recent spaghetti stream and make a different kind of noodles – rice vermicelli. Instead of boiling them, I thought I’d stir-fry them right in the pan with my veggies; but how to flavor everything? I looked on the shelf in the refrigerator and one ingredient jumped out at me. It was some sesame paste which I had bought for a recipe involving homemade ramen noodles. I had not liked the noodles, it turned out, and as a result banished the sesame paste. But as I thought about things more, I was pretty sure that the ramen noodles were what I didn’t like (they were very alkaline). So out came the sesame paste.
It’s important to note: this isn’t tahini we’re talking about. I have that too, and it’s great, but this is completely different. It’s a dark brown paste you can buy at Asian food stores. Don’t try making this recipe with tahini. It, well, it will suck… I don’t actually know that, but I’m pretty sure.
So once I took out the sesame paste, the first thing that happened was that I spilled it all over everything. The paste had separated into a thick, solid lower layer and a lot of oil on top. As I tried to scoop out the paste, my spoon slipped and flung sesame oil everywhere. My nice Salomon jacket now smells like sesame. Eh, well, you win some, you lose some.
The next thing that happened was that I put some of the paste in a pan with my sizzling vegetables. I wanted the sesame paste to sort of coat the veggies. But it was too thick. I tried to stir it in, thinking that the heat would re-liquify it after a long time in the refrigerator, but nothing happened. I still had chunks of sesame paste in my veggies. I poured in some shaoxing wine and some soy sauce, in the hopes that the steam from the boiling sauces would soften the paste and that everything would come together into a uniform sauce. It kind of worked. It took a lot of stirring, but I finally felt like the sesame was coating my veggies. Mission accomplished.
Finally, I threw in the rice noodles, which had been soaking in cold water. They didn’t cook for long, and when the whole mess was done, they were mostly soft with just a few crispy strands from the bottom of the frying pan.
And the mess? It was delicious. Veggies, sesame, a pickled hot pepper, fried noodles. It might not be authentic to any region of the world, but it’s authentic to my kitchen. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters – hot, good food. Dinner. Home. Hooray.
Fried Sesame Noodles With Carrots and Brocolli
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic
1 pickled hot red pepper (or another kind of chile pepper!)
1 large carrot, chopped small
1 small head of broccoli, chopped small
2 tablespoons sesame paste
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 handful rice vermicelli noodles, soaked in cold water for half an hour
In a stainless-steel frying pan or a wok if you’re feeling ambitious, heat the oils together over medium-high heat. Chop the garlic and the pickled pepper into a very fine mince, and toss them in the pan; include the seeds of the pepper. Cook for just a minute to soften before adding the carrot and the pieces of the broccoli stem (save the florets for later). Stir everything for a few minutes until the hard vegetables begin to soften up. Then add the broccoli florets and watch as they turn bright green. Stir in the sesame paste, trying to break it up; pour the wine and soy sauce into the pan and use the steam to help stir in the sesame paste. Once everything is uniform and there are no more big clumps of sesame paste, drain the noodles and add them to the pan. Cook three to four minutes or longer, depending on how crispy you want your fried noodles.