Marco . . . Polo

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Whether the Italian explorer Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy in the 13th century is a matter of historical debate. What is not in dispute is that the Chinese had been cooking with forms of pasta for centuries before that. My favorite Chinese chef, Diana Kuan, came up with this easy to make version of spicy-sweet sesame noodles, that I managed to make without sesame paste – and it still turned out delicious. The lesson here is: get creative in your kitchen, as you don’t have to go out into the big scary world to make something tasty here.

COLD SESAME NOODLES

Appetiteforchina.com

Serves 4 to 6

12 ounces dried spaghetti or Chinese egg noodles

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons grated ginger

1 cucumber, peeled and julienned

2 carrot, peeled and julienned

2 teaspoons white sesame seeds

2 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced

Sauce

3 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste (or tahini with an extra teaspoon of sesame oil)

2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (use more if you don’t have sesame paste)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar (or other light vinegar)

2 teaspoons chili paste or Sriracha

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper or crushed red pepper (optional)

Instructions

1.  Bring a pot of water to boil and cook egg noodles or spaghetti until al dente, or the minimum amount of time according to package instructions. Drain immediately, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil and set aside.

2. Heat the other tablespoon of peanut oil in a small pan over medium heat. Gently cook the minced garlic and grated ginger until just fragrant, about 30 to 40 seconds. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Prepare the sauce: In a medium bowl, combine the sesame paste, peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili paste, sugar, and optional Sichuan pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of water and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cooked garlic and ginger.

4. Pour the sauce over the noodles, add the cucumbers and carrots, and toss. (You can certainly skip the vegetables, and/or add some chopped cilantro.) Transfer to large bowl or deep serving dish and sprinkle the sesame seeds and scallions on top. You can serve the sesame noodles at room temperature or chill in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours before serving.

There is a reason they call dishes like this “comfort food,” especially these days. Stay safe and sane, my friends.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil rights litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at Twitter or Facebook @nickroumel, or Instagram @nroumel. He is also a candidate for Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge (nickforjudge.com).