Boston is under siege! A couple weeks ago an oppressive wave of heat and humidity descended upon the city sending our “feels like” temperatures into the triple digits. I know, I know, I should feel bad complaining about this having lived in New York, DC, and Kansas where the air is soupy enough to swim in come August, and most recently in Texas where the scorching heat will melt the skin off your face most months out of the year, but I’m a Northerner now, and us Yanks just can’t handle the heat. Which is precisely why I’ve come up with an arsenal of meals that require very little time in front of a hot stove and can be prepared early in the day when the temperature is a bit cooler. Best of all, these dinners are designed to be served and eaten cold, preferably with a chilled glass of whatever you’re into drinking right now (for me, it’s my hubby’s awesome wine spritzers with homemade lemon syrup and fresh mint.)
*wiping drool off my chin as I type*
And just to entice you even further, this recipe is super flexi, so you can adapt it to whatever produce you have in your fridge, or, better yet, whatever’s fresh at your local farmers’ market — this week I picked up some radishes; Hakurei (Japanese turnips); a burpless cucumber (there were other cucumbers there, but, come on, burpless cucumbers – how could I resist?); scallions, orange & purple bell peppers (purple!); a huge bunch of fresh basil; and a gnarly, dirty bulb of garlic.
Oh, and I was also lucky enough to score this rusty old cast iron skillet for the awesome price of free! that I lovingly brought back to life with a little bit of elbow grease and a whole lot of swearing.(And now, my sweet little friend, you will make me delicious grilled cheeses.)
Even though the list of ingredients below reflects my personal tastes and my (not so cheap) purchase at the farmers’ market, you should absolutely feel free to swap out any or all of produce listed in this recipe with whatever you have on hand – just be sure to choose crunchier veggies that won’t wilt under the weight of the dressing: shaved carrots, celery, parsnips, and daikon are all good options. You’ll want a total of 2 cups of cut vegetables.
Cold Szechuan Noodles with Chicken
This recipe is actually a riff on one I posted back in 2014, but it’s changed a little over the years (haven’t we all!), and I’d like say, matured a bit? In this version, I’ve swapped out the heavy buckwheat noodles for a lighter rice noodle, added some umami-packed flavors, and included shredded chicken, graduating it from side dish to main course. And as I mentioned above, this recipe is designed to be tweaked to your taste, so if you hate radishes, leave ’em out. Chicken not your thing? Throw in shrimp, tofu, or shredded beef instead. Also, there are a few specialty items that I’ve indicated with an asterisk (*), and, whenever possible, I’ve suggested a more mainstream pantry item for substitution. The goal here is not to think too hard about this dish, because really, our brains are already mushy enough from the heat.
8-10 oz. rice noodles (white or brown)
2 cups shredded precooked chicken (omit for vegetarian)
2 radishes, thinly sliced
2 Hakurei, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced into rounds
1 bell pepper (preferably red, orange, or yellow – or purple if you can find one!)
1½ tsp sesame seeds, divided
¼ cup basil leaves, roughly torn (cilantro or mint would work well, too)
Chili oil and red pepper flakes for serving (optional)
For the dressing:
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
3 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
¼ cup tahini*
1 Tbsp mirin**
2 tsp fish sauce***
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
*Tahini is a sesame paste, much like peanut butter, but with a little bit of a kick. Out of all of the specialty items I’ve suggested over the years, I’d definitely recommend getting this one. Tahini is really versatile and can be used in hummus, dips, and cookies. If you don’t want to use tahini, you can substitute 2 Tbsp of peanut butter instead.
**Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine that can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores. Mirin is relatively inexpensive and can be used in marinades, dipping sauces, and soups. If you don’t have mirin, you can substitute 1 tsp of honey.
***Fish sauce is exactly what it sounds like – a sauce made from salted and fermented fish – and a few dashes of this stuff will pack a delicious umami-punch to every bite. It’s a little bit salty, a little bit sweet, and whole lot of funky – kinda like me. Fish sauce can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores and can be used in marinades, dipping sauces, and soups. Omit if you don’t like funk.
1. Set a large pot of heavily salted water over high heat until it comes to a rolling boil. Cook noodles per package instructions; drain, rinse thoroughly with cold water, then transfer to an ice bath until ready to use.
2. Whisk together oil, soy sauce, vinegar, tahini, mirin or honey, fish sauce (if using), ginger, garlic, and fresh cracked black pepper.
3. Drain noodles, pressing on the top with a clean towel to extract as much extra water as possible, and pour into a large serving bowl. Add chicken, diced veggies, 1 tsp of sesame seeds, and ¾ of the dressing; toss to coat. Reserve remaining dressing for serving. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
4. To serve; add remaining dressing, toss to combine, then garnish with ½ tsp sesame seeds and torn herbs. If you like it spicy like I do, drizzle with a little bit of chili oil and a dash of red pepper flakes.
*To find a farmers’ market in your area, click here.*