A fellow food writer in Georgia wrote last week from what he jokingly called “Hotlanta”. I looked up Atlanta’s weather and it was indeed warm. That made me chuckle but also got me thinking: When the heat is on, it’s time to ponder Asian cold noodle recipes! I categorized them as “cold” but technically the noodles may be cold, warm, or at room temperature, depending on the noodle and sauce. The dish itself is not piping hot.
That aside, these kinds of dishes are great to make because the components can be made in advance. When you’re ready, you toss and serve. Make-ahead, casual noodles is the bottom line.
When I have leftovers, I throw together Vietnamese rice noodle salads bowls for lunch. (If you need guidance, there’s a little blueprint for bun bowls in a post I wrote a few years back to guide you.) But I cook a lot of Viet food plus a lot of other food. Here are five literally cool noodle recipes to inspire you even when it’s extra humid and hot.
Spicy Asian Cold Noodle Recipe
Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles
There’s typically a bit of meat in dan dan noodles but you can certainly make the piquant dish without it. Meat is not the focus of dan dan noodles so I used tofu for my meatless recipe (photo above). The reason it works is because the seasonings are what make the dish sing. They’re responsible for creating the exciting heat and umami delicious that attract dan dan fans. So yes, cold noodles are great when they’re spicy hot.
Sichuan Cold Sesame Noodles
I fell for this noodle dish in the late 1980s when the sauce was commonly made with peanut butter. I ate oodles of it in Los Angeles, and even came up with a recipe of my own. Then decades later, I delved deeper and made a rendition that was closer to tradition using sesame paste. It was earthy but I still longed for the peanut butter version of my twenties. Given that, I came up with a recipe that goes both ways. Use sesame paste or peanut butter!
Peking Meat Sauce Noodles (Zha Jiang Mian)
Old cookbooks are full of treasures. This recipe comes from Joyce Chen’s amazing cookbook. It’s so good and easy to make, so go for it! You’ll also get a bit of Chen’s attitude in this article and recipe.There’s a lot of flexibility in zha jiang mian so feel free to play with the toppings.
Soothing Asian Cold Noodle Recipes
Cold Udon Noodles (Zaru Udon)
When I was in Tokyo researching tofu for my third cookbook, it was sweltering hot. My friends suggested we go to eat udon, which I had only enjoyed in hot soup broth. I thought they were nuts but they enlightened me by introducing me to cold udon noodles. It’s like cold soba but the fat, chewy noodles make the dish texturally luscious and extra fun to eat; the noodles seem to take up the sauce really well, too. I came back to America and whipped up a simple zaru udon recipe. If you want to, make the udon noodles from scratch.
Soba Noodles with Vietnamese Herbs
Remember the magical Japanese seasoned soy sauce that I made a while back? I hope you have banno joyu in your pantry. It’s great on cold tofu, but you can also use it to dress cold soba noodles. For this quick recipe, I use fresh tia to (red perilla) and kinh gio (Vietnamese balm), a popular Vietnamese herb that I grow but you can buy at Asian markets. You could use other zippy herbs, such as Thai or opal basil, which should be coming into season soon; Italian basil would be okay. If you have Japanese shiso, use that. Add snipped chives, for a milder bite than green onion.
So as the temps climb, you can stay cool with these noodles!
What’s your favorite Asian cold noodle dishes? I’m always taking ideas…