I lost track of the number of meals I cooked (and cleaned!) In the last year of quarantine, even though 1,095 (that’s 365 times 3 for anyone who scores at home) are probably close together. Even as a recipe developer and cookbook author who is no stranger to working from home, lunch is a mystery – I’ve never cooked it before the quarantine. It’s hard enough pulling off the computer to whip something up in the middle of the day, but matching my family’s five different lunch breaks (and preferences) only adds to the difficulty. There have been victories (this time I made dumplings and combined them with marinara sauce), there were losses (even pancakes with sourdough garbage get boring after eating them for 10 days in a row) and there were lots and lots of peanut butter noodles.
Drawing on the power of some pantry staples, this dish has a depth of flavor and dimension that belies what a quick, easy, flexible, and pointless (and therefore brilliant) solution it is when time and energy are short and the Hunger is low at lunchtime, pain is high. Although this recipe calls for a mix of peanut butter, rice vinegar, maple syrup, garlic, soy sauce, and dried noodles, think of it more as a formula: a nutty, full-bodied base that is diluted with a mixture of slightly sour to cut through the richness , something sweet for balance and something salty for a jolt of umami. That means, whether you’re Team Smooth or Camp Crunchy, any type of peanut butter is fine. Not dig peanuts? Sub for another type of nut or seed butter or use tahini. If your syrup is low, try honey or sugar. My pantry is always well stocked with Asian noodles – instant ramen, wheat, udon, rice noodles, thick rice noodles, soba, somen, egg noodles – and any of these noodles work great, but also noodles like spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine.
And while it’s really about the creamy, pourable sauce, a few vegetables round off the dish and provide even more coverage. Cucumber gives a pleasantly fresh crunch, which is why I call it here, but also shredded carrots or cabbage. If you have leftover roasted vegetables in the refrigerator, you can also throw them in and add nutritional value.
Best of all, because it’s cold just as well, you can even do it all in the morning before you sit down to work and leave it hanging on the counter until you or someone else in the house gets hungry. (Both the sauce and noodles are happy at room temperature – just loosen the drained noodles under water before eating.) Put everything, including all the accessories – spring onions, sesame oil, chilli oil, sesame seeds, and peanuts – in your own container, and leave You each put together their own bowl. Who knows, it might even inspire them to clean up their own dishes while they’re at it.
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Hetty McKinnon’s creamy, crunchy, salty-sweet peanut noodles with cucumbers blow up our blues for lunch.