There are days when you think the cupboard is bare and you just, for the life of you cannot make it out to forage for more. If what you need is a swift stop-gap to keep the wobbles away, then skip straight to the recipe at the bottom.
This is a dish for those sorts of days. It’s for when you’re poorly, but know in your heart of hearts that you’ll feel a little better when you eat something. It’s for when you’re stranded at home waiting for a trades person who gave you a six hour window of potential appearance- and hasn’t arrived by hour 5 and three quarters. It’s for when your offspring is having a freakishly monster nap, and as starved as you are, you can’t bare to wake them to get to the shops. It’s for when you’re flying solo and just can’t be faffed with any preparation beyond boiling some water and muddling a few things in a bowl.
And it’s for days when you want to challenge yourself a little and make something out of nothing.
The inspiration for these noodles is the American Chinese take away classic of sesame noodles. It deploys pantry staples with strapping shelf lives, like buckwheat noodles, peanut butter, tahini, soy sauce and sesame oil. You could of course make it entirely with noodles (wheat, rice, what have you- but I love the savoury flavour and lower GI of buckwheat soba), but in an attempt to add a little more vegetables I’ve leaned on cabbage slivers to bulk it out, which work in a similar way to zucchini ‘zoodles’ – without the need for an additional piece of kitchen kit, or a kitsch name.
Slimly cutting some cabbage leaves into ribbons and then boiling it along with the noodles softens them into mellow strands which retain a dignified bite (try it instead of pasta next time you make ragu). Sousing them in a little sesame oil straight after cooking helps prevent it all clumping together and adds a heady note of flavour.
The rest of the sauce is the sort of muddling that your toddler would probably do if left unattended in the kitchen. I’ve used tahini as the sesame paste, because that’s what’s always in my fridge (where would roast vegetable and quinoa salads be without a tahini/greek yoghurt dressing?). Yet you could just as easily use Chinese sesame paste, or go with 100% nut butters. Of course for those with nut allergies, a puree of sunflower seeds would also work.
There are two things that make this really sing- the first is some chopped cucumber on the side for textural crunch. And the second is to eat it straight away while it is still warm. Of course there are additional tweaks you could add; lob in some poached salmon or threads of cooked chicken, sprinkle it with Szechuan peppercorns and some firm tofu, or muddle through some strands of carrot, courgette or fried eggplant. Yet there’s something so satisfyingly soothing about bowl food, made from virtually nothing. All it calls for is for you to slink into a sunny corner of the house, sit on a cushion and enjoy the silence (while you have it).
Sparse Cupboard Sesame Noodles
50 g buckwheat noodles
50 g cabbage, cut into slim ribbons
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 spring onion, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
slices of cucumber to garnish
Here’s how we roll
2) While the noodles are cooking, whisk together your sauce. Combine the soy, tahini, peanut butter and garlic in a bowl with two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and whisk to combine.
4) Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, including the chopped spring onions.