Big Little Recipes

A 2-Ingredient Sauce for Spicy, Creamy Noodles

June 23, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re turning three ingredients into anytime noodles.

If winter is for hot commodities like baked ziti, rendang rigatoni, noodle kugel, and brothy pho, then summer welcomes the opposite—noodle dishes that are exhilaratingly cold, like stepping into an A/C-blasted apartment after trudging through the muggy midday sun.

Even just within East Asian cuisines, there are so many popular examples of this, you could try out a different cold noodle most nights between now and Labor Day and not run out.

According to chef and author Hooni Kim in My Korea, “mul naengmyeon [buckwheat noodles in chilled broth], from North Korea, is the most popular cold noodle dish in Korea.” There's also kimchi-driven bibim guksu, or kongguksu splashing in fresh soy milk.

Photo by Amanda Widis

In Japan, zaru soba, chilled buckwheat noodles, are served with a dashi-based dipping sauce: “Nothing more. It is simple and straightforward,” writes teacher and author Sonoko Sakai in Japanese Home Cooking. And hiyashi chuka, ramen’s summery alter ego, keeps the toppings like “assorted veggies, meat, and other good stuff,” writes recipe developer Shao Zhi Zhong for Serious Eats, but ditches the hot broth for “a vinegary dressing.”

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“im east asian and love shanghai-style cold sesame noodles as it was a favorite dish in my childhood, but there is no way you could convince me kimchi and peanut butter are good together on noodles, i'm sorry 😭 ”
— So S.

“Cold noodles, or liang mian, are, of course, a hot-weather staple in many of China’s regional cuisines,” Eater San Francisco editor Luke Tsai describes for Taste. His family’s recipe for garlicky peanut butter noodles, a staple from their backyard cookouts in New Jersey, featuring an all-American grocery ingredient list, are "a great example of what San Francisco Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho has called 'assimilation foods'—the kinds of half-improvised dishes that immigrants make when they’re far from home."

Which brings us to this Big Little Recipe, inspired by many Chinese takeout orders of cold sesame noodles. By cravings for a sauce that’s sorta spicy, very nutty, ideal for an overheated summer day. To get there though, the ingredient list takes a different, shorter route than usual.

For context, look at (or, better yet, make) Patricia Yeo’s Genius Sesame Noodles—the sauce is mostly comprised of toasty sesame seeds, jolted awake with shallot, garlic, rice vinegar, and chile paste. In other recipes for ma jiang mian (sesame noodles), you might also cross paths with soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar, and chile oil. But there’s one ingredient, never not in my fridge, that can accomplish many of these things (salt! spice! umami!) on its own: kimchi.

While it depends on the recipe—here’s a guide on how to DIY from Eric Kim—cabbage-based kimchi often includes daikon, onion, scallion, apples or pears, garlic, ginger, gochugaru, salted shrimp, fish sauce, and sugar. Mix together, let ferment, and you have a briny, funky dish in itself that, as Hooni Kim puts it, “can be used to create many other extraordinary dishes.”

In this two-ingredient sauce, store-bought kimchi carries most of the weight. Not just because you blend some into peanut butter, then loosen things up with glowing-red kimchi brine. But because you pile even more kimchi on top of the slicked noodles, for crunch and contrast next to all the silky, nutty richness.

It’s the sort of feel-good dinner that I can make no matter how sparse my fridge, no matter how little time I have to pull something together, no matter how sweaty and sticky my un–air conditioned kitchen.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
Order now

Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sohee
  • ahncj
  • So sett
    So sett
  • Anusha Avulamanda
    Anusha Avulamanda
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Sohee June 29, 2020
This is a Genius Recipe! I am from Seoul and I loved it. I tweaked it a bit because my supermarket Kimchi was dry and didn't yield juice so I added toasted sesame oil into the peanut-kimchi paste in the food processor. To serve, I topped it with thinly sliced, ice cold cucumber, grated carrot, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, crushed seaweed and red pepper flakes. My family wolfed it down. I am now forwarding this recipe to everybody I know. Thank you, Emma!
ahncj June 24, 2020
I grew up in Korea and I have to agree with the commenter above... PB and kimchi...? That's way too adventurous even for me, and I love to experiment with food. Maybe it would work with other ingredients (Korean staples such as ground toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, vinegar, scallions, and gochugaru/gochujang come to mind) added to bring the flavors together.
So S. June 23, 2020
im east asian and love shanghai-style cold sesame noodles as it was a favorite dish in my childhood, but there is no way you could convince me kimchi and peanut butter are good together on noodles, i'm sorry 😭
Anusha A. June 23, 2020
It is Really Nice And Also Please Visit Below Link For To Watch Mutton Biryani Recipe...