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Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008 04:37 pm

Oodles of Chinese noodles

How to make sesame peanut noodles and hot-and-sour noodle with shrimp

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Legend has it that Marco Polo brought pasta home to Italy after his travels in China. Like so many legends, however, this one doesn't stand up to close scrutiny: Marco Polo returned to Venice in 1295; the Roman gourmand Apicus described a broad noodle, laganon (ancestor of our word "lasagna"), in the first century A.D.

It's almost certain, however, that the Chinese won the "Who Ate the First Noodle?" sweepstakes. There are extensive records of noodle consumption during the Han Dynasty (206-220 A.D.). The oldest form of noodle discovered was found in an overturned sealed bowl during an archaeological dig in Lajia, in northwestern China. It was made from two kinds of millet and is believed to be 3,000 years old.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

This recipe is one of my family's most beloved dishes, an absolute must have on camping trips and on hot summer days. It's a snap to make — there's no cooking involved except for boiling the noodles, and the sauce can be made ahead, so all that needs to be done at the last minute is to cook the noodles and toss them with the sauce. My kids love it so much that they've even given jars of the sauce to each other and friends as gifts. My family enjoys quite a bit of heat, so we add the maximum amount of chile oil, but you can lessen it or even eliminate it altogether and the noodles will still taste great. In fact, my son Robb, who works with emotionally disturbed children, called just as I started writing this to ask for the recipe so he could make it (sans chile oil) to give to the kids during the Olympics.

1pound Chinese egg noodles* or other thin, fresh egg noodles,

such as linguini

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, white or black

1/4 cup smooth natural peanut butter

6 tablespoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 or 2 tablespoons Chinese chile oil* (more or less to taste)

4 tablespoons seasoned rice-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Fresh cilantro for garnish

Combine half of the sesame seeds, half of the sesame oil, and the peanut butter, soy sauce, chile oil, rice-wine vinegar, and sugar in a large mixing bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cook the noodles in a large quantity of boiling salted water just until al dente. Watch carefully: Fresh pasta cooks in just a few minutes, probably no more than three to five. Drain the noodles and immediately toss them with the remaining sesame oil, then add them to the bowl and combine thoroughly. Cool to room temperature. Garnish the dish with the remaining sesame seeds and cilantro. Serves four to six, or eight or more as part of a larger meal.

If you like big, bold flavors, give the following recipe a try. It's a riff on a Mandarin classic, hot-and-sour soup. Actually, it's a riff on a riff: The original recipe is in Big Bowl, a cookbook by Bruce Cost, chef and co-owner of the Big Bowl and Wow Bao restaurants, which originated in Chicago and now can be found in a few other locations as well. I made some changes, including using fresh mushrooms instead of dried and jicama instead of water chestnuts. Fresh water chestnuts are wonderful — as different from canned as, say, fresh green beans are different from canned, but they're hard to find here in central Illinois. Jicama — which, as it turns out, is used frequently in Asian cooking, as well as Mexican — is very close to fresh water chestnuts in taste and texture. If you'd like those big, bold flavors without the heat, simply reduce the amount of pepper.

1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined, halved lengthwise if large

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus more for drizzling

4 tablespoons red-wine or cider vinegar

4 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar (use seasoned if you'd like the

dish a little sweeter, unseasoned if you want it less sweet)

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

4 tablespoons light brown sugar

Four eggs

1 1/2 cups jicama, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/4 cup minced fresh ginger

8 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, tough stems removed, cut

into 1/2-inch slices

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

Two bunches of scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green kept

separate from dark green (you should have at least

1 cup of each)

4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, divided

1 pound Chinese egg noodles* or other thin, fresh egg

noodles such as linguini

Stir the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon sesame oil together in a bowl or mush them together in a resealable plastic bag to form a slurry. Add the shrimp and toss so that the shrimp are thoroughly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl combine the vinegars, 1/3 cup soy sauce, and the brown sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set the bowl aside.

Beat the eggs lightly with the remaining soy sauce and set them aside.

Have the remaining ingredients prepared (sliced, minced, diced, etc.) and measured out before you begin cooking. Put a large pot of water on to boil.

Put 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. When the oil has just begun to smoke, add the shrimp and stir-fry just until they are cooked through. Set them aside in the large bowl or platter in which you intend to serve the dish.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the wok and add the mushrooms. Stir-fry until the mushrooms have wilted, then add the jicama and 2 tablespoons soy sauce and continue to stir-fry a few more minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through and the jicama is crisp/tender. Add to the platter.

Heat another tablespoon of oil and add the eggs, scrambling them until they are set and breaking them into small curds. Add the eggs to the platter.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the wok, add the garlic and ginger and stir a few seconds (be careful to not let the garlic burn), then add the pepper and scallion whites. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, then add the sauce and bring to a boil. Remove the wok from the heat.

Add the noodles to the boiling water (see above). About a minute before they're done, return the wok to the heat and add the contents of the platter. Drain the noodles and immediately add them to the wok along with half of the scallion greens. Toss everything together for a few minutes and serve immediately, garnished with the remaining scallions and drizzled sesame oil. Serves four to six, or eight or more as part of a regular meal.

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