Gluten-Free Cold Noodles & Sesame Sauce

Gluten-Free Cold Noodles & Sesame Sauce

As a kid, I adored Stouffer’s frozen mac and cheese. I would pull up a stool in front of the toaster oven and watch it bake, anticipating the melted cheesy goodness that would ensue if only I could hold out for the 25 minutes it instructed me to wait. So naturally, when I got out of college and went wheeling down the grocery aisles like a kid in a candy store (woohooo! I can get anything I want!) I picked up a couple of packages. Brought home, immediately stuck in oven. Waited excruciating 25 minutes til done. Pulled out and took in a triumphant whiff. Fork dove in from 3 feet high. First taste of a childhood comfort food in 10ish years… could it be happening? Oh so delightfff-uhh-glauuuuuugh!? Gross! What the? This shite is pasty narsty mushiness! How did I eat this crap?

There are many childhood treatsies that have similarly fallen from grace: McDonald’s chicken nuggets, fruit loops, bubblegum ice cream, lunchables. Cold Noodles and Sesame Sauce was another one I luh-uh-uhved, but it might be the only such dish that has managed to maintain its allure into adulthood (ok, ramen noodles and kraft mac & cheese are survivors, too). There seem to be several ideas of what constitutes CNSS (given my experience ordering it at restaurants over the last 20-odd years), but in my mind, the gold standard is set by Empire Szechuan in Manhattan. Most restaurants make a sesame-oily imposter. I’ve tested it out at enough spots to know it’s not worth ordering. But Empire Szechuan’s noodles are divine and remain so to this day.

Sadly, Empire Szechuan doesn’t deliver to Chicago, so I have had to search for recipes that could recreate their magic. Where did I hit gold? Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook empire. Her recipes, if you’re not already familiar with them, are not watered down for whiteys (as far as I can tell, of course, being a whitey myself) and obviously, that’s a good thing. And does she have a recipe for cold noodles? YES! And hubba is it tasty. Just like I remember good old Empire Szechuan’s. I don’t have all the wacky ingredients she calls for… plus, like most Chinese food, t’ain’t gluten-free. Sew-hew-hew, here is my take on Madhur’s masterful mimicry of Empire Szechuan’s delight. To make it slightly more nutritious so it can stand as a main course and provide some vitamins for this veghead, I’ve added extra veggies. If you’re a purist or could care less about the nutrition (power to ya), stick to noodles, the sauce, and julienned cucumbers. If you’re interested in her original recipe, it’s on page 246 of World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

Cold Noodles with Sesame Sauce

  • 1 package of rice noodles
  • veggie oil
  • sesame oil
  • 1 grated zucchini
  • 5ish scallions
  • 5ish leaves of napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 tub of extra firm tofu
  • julienned cucumber (1 pickling cuke works best b/c you don’t have to seed it and it’s the perfect size. Plus, they’re super crunchy)
  • 1 T sesame seeds
  • 1 T black sesame seeds (for fun, if you have them)
    For the sauce:

  • 1/2 c. tahini
  • 1/4 c. tamari
  • 2 T Chinese black vinegar* (sub. balsamic if you can’t find GF black vinegar)
  • 1 tsp sugar (omit if using balsamic vinegar)
  • 2 T veggie oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp chili oil
  • 2 T water
  • salt to taste
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper

Diiiiirec-shons: Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain and rinse with cold water. Put noodles in a large serving bowl and drizzle with 1-2 T of sesame oil and toss to coat. Set aside.

Grate the zucchini and saute in a pan with a tablespoon each of sesame oil and veggie oil. Add the chopped scallions and saute until wilted. Dump on top of the noodles. Add napa cabbage. Mix von mix. Cut the tofu into 1/4-inch thick rectangles. Cut the rectangles in half diagonally so you end up with large triangles. Brown the triangles on both sides with a couple tablespoons of sesame oil in a fry pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the ingredients for the sesame sauce until smooth and pasty. The sauce will seem too thick, but have faith – it’ll be buttah. Pour the sauce onto the veggies and noodles and toss. Top with tofu, julienned cuke, and sesame seeds. Serve at room temp.

Gluten-free brand of Chinese Black Vinegar

Gluten-free brand of Chinese Black Vinegar

*A note on this wacky ingredient: The first bottle of Chinese black vinegar I picked up at the Asian food mart and used for years was sadly not gluten-free. I was devastated when I actually read the label. But, since then I have found that there are many brands that do not use barley (the offending ingredient) in their recipe. This brand of Chinkiang Vinegar is one of them. And hey, according to Wikipedia, this is considered the best. What a deal.