There’s nothing really authentic about these noodles, in the same way that there’s nothing really authentic about Jews celebrating Christmas, but that never stopped my family from enjoying both. For us, Dec. 25 meant two things: a trip to the movies and a feast of Chinese takeout. Driven by the simple fact that the movie theater and Chinese restaurants were two of the only spots in town still open on Christmas, this annual tradition was how my family wanted to make the Yuletide gay.
Over the past few years, the tradition of ordering takeout has slowly been replaced by preparing some of our favorite dishes at home, resulting in this recipe taking over my Christmas kitchen. Fresh lo mein noodles are stir-fried with mushrooms, cabbage and bok choy in a rich and spicy peanut sauce laced with soy and honey. When you’re done, all that frankincense and myrrh will have been replaced by fragrant garlic and ginger in this heavenly wok of noods.
The recipe merits a trip to your local Asian grocery store, where you can familiarize yourself with some of my favorite Chinese staples (though you can also get pretty much everything online these days). The first is the fresh noodle section. Here you can find fresh Chinese egg noodles, which in the same way as getting fresh pasta from the supermarket, yields a superior end product.
The next is the sauce section, where I stock my pantry with spicy chile pastes and fermented sauces galore. One of my favorite go-tos is chile-bean sauce, or toban djan, a classic sauce used in Sichuan cuisine. The combination of ground chiles and fermented beans creates a spicy, umami-rich paste that will add complexity of flavor to any dish. I add just 1 tablespoon for what I consider the perfect level of heat, but if you can handle the burn, feel free to bump it up a little.
You’re probably wondering how the peanut butter gets into the mix. This masterpiece is a hybrid of two of my favorite noodle dishes in Chinatown. The first is a spicy Sichuan number, but the second is a decadent plate of wheat noodles dressed in a peanut sauce. I just adore how combining flavors of each formed a new addictive creation, balancing the heat with the creamy peanut butter. It’s far from traditional and authentic, but it’s a comforting dish that you’ll be slurping up well into the new year.
I’m just going to leave you with this: Mariah Carey was wrong. All I want for Christmas is Chinese food.
Spicy Peanut Noodles
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
For The Sauce
- 1/4 cup peanut butter
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon chile-bean sauce
For The Noodles
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 pound fresh lo mein noodles
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons minced ginger
- 4 scallions, white and light green parts minced, dark green tops thinly sliced for garnish
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1/2 medium head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1/2 medium head bok choy, thinly sliced
1. Make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients until smooth. Set aside.
2. Make the noodles: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and set up a colander in the sink. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until softened, 3 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Rinse the noodles with cold water to remove excess starch, then toss with 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil.
3. In a large wok or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 1/3 cup vegetable oil over medium-high heat with the garlic, ginger and minced scallions. Once sizzling and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often until softened and slightly golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and bok choy, tossing until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Add in the noodles, reserved water and the sauce, tossing until well coated in sauce and hot, 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat, garnish with the sliced scallion greens and serve.