Cold noodles to keep on rotation as soon as nights get warm enough to throw the comforter off the bed. Inspired by many takeout orders of ma jiang mian (sesame noodles), this sauce is nutty and spicy, hinging on two things I always have around: peanut butter and kimchi. The latter is a foundational Korean ingredient put toward innumerable dishes, notably including bibim guksu (spicy cold noodles).
I prefer unsweetened peanut butter for its extra-peanutty taste. That said, why not try unsweetened sesame paste, or cashew butter, or almond butter? And if sweetened is all you have around, that works too. The sauce will turn out even silkier, and some cooks actually prefer that spicy-sweet contrast. Just increase the kimchi and salt accordingly.
Store-bought kimchi works great here. Though if you’d like to make your own, go for it (here’s a handy guide). Just make sure it’s cabbage-based and don’t toss that brine—we’re using it to loosen and intensify the sauce. (If you’re vegetarian, double check the ingredient list to confirm it’s a variety without any salted shrimp or fish sauce.)
Which noodles you use depends on which noodles you like. Or, especially as many of us are still sheltering in place, which noodles you already have in the cabinet. The umbrella requirement is that it’s long in shape. But from there, you have many options: Chinese egg noodles, soba, udon, ramen, somyeon, spaghetti, or linguini (especially toothsome whole-wheat). Don’t skip the rinsing step—this washes the noodles of excess starch so they don’t become gloopy as they chill.
This is one of our Big Little Recipes, our weekly column all about dishes with big flavor and little ingredient lists. Do you know (and love) a recipe that’s low in ask, high in reward? Let us know in the comments. —Emma Laperruque
Cook the noodles in salted boiling water until they’re toothsome-meets-chewy. A couple minutes before the box says they’re ready, start tasting frequently.
While those are in the works, combine the peanut butter and ½ cup kimchi in a food processor, and blend until combined. Add 3 tablespoons of liquid—either a combo of kimchi brine and water (I like half and half), or all kimchi brine, or all water, depending on how much spice and acidity you’re looking for. Blend again, scraping down as needed, until smooth-ish. Taste and add salt if needed, then transfer to a big heatproof bowl.
When the noodles are done, drain them into a colander in the sink and rinse very well with cold water. Shake a couple times, then add the cold noodles to the sauce. Toss until coated, then add more kimchi brine or water, if needed, to get the sauce to the consistency you want.
These are best as soon as they’re tossed, but they also hold well at room temperature for a couple hours. Or refrigerate for later. (Just keep in mind that the sauce will thicken further in the fridge—you can thin with kimchi brine or water as needed.) Whenever you serve, pile the remaining ½ cup kimchi on top.
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.