“Remember that spicy, peanuty sesame noodle thing you make? We want that again!” requested Sue this past spring. Sue had allowed me to stay in her house in Yosemite West for no less than 37 weeks over the course of a decade, and although it had been a few years since I had cooked for her, she still remembered this divine dish. It’s been my secret weapon as a fulltime climber/couch surfer for as long as I can remember. I’ve made it for foreign boyfriend’s families, a party of 30 in Camp Four and for a friend’s Midwest wedding.
Even if you aren’t a guest in someone’s home, this recipe is totally worth the effort for the following reasons:
- If you don’t put meat in it, it can last in your ice-less cooler for at least a couple of days.
- Impress PBJ/Powerbar underachievers by showing up at the crag with the leftovers for lunch. Bonus style points if you eat it with chopsticks.
- Dudes dig chicks that can cook (ask my husband or any of my ex-boyfriends, who are now starving and lonely).
- Chicks dig dudes that can cook.
- You can take a picture of your creation and post it on Facebook.
When our dirtbag, van-dwelling, super-youth friend Hayden Kennedy recently stayed in our driveway for a week, I knew he needed my help. Now Hayden can crush the 5.14s and blaze up El Cap in an afternoon, but he’s a youngster with zero skills with the ladies. He needed a go-to, sure-fire date-clinching meal—and not just a lame pot of pasta and red sauce… he needed to know how to cook my secret-weapon meal. He knows little to nothing about cooking, but he eagerly strapped on an apron and believe-it-or-not was able to serve admirably as my sous chef. So ladies, if you see the super youth cruising the Valley floor or milling about in El Chalten, do yourself a favor and sweetly ask him to cook you this meal, but be sure you kiss him goodnight (at a minimum… huma-da-huma-da-huma-da-meeeeow!).
[Hayden Kennedy: Ladies wanted, inquire within. All photos: Brittany Griffith]
With Hayden’s chefing internship success, I figured I should also share this “secret weapon” meal with you. If you can read, you can make this in a van, on a camp stove or in the kitchen of the current sorry sucker who’s letting you perma-bivy in their spare bedroom, garage, yard or driveway. It’s made with simple ingredients (preferably organic or natural) that can be found at even the most meager of grocery stores.
Here’s your grocery needs list:
- Noodles: look in the “Ethnic Foods” section for more authentic Asian noodles (Udon, for example). If you can’t find them, fettuccini will do just fine.
[Udon noodles found at any generic grocery store.]
- Peanut butter: Crunchy or smooth, you decide
- Garlic: Fresh is best… do NOT buy the freaky jarred kind
- Sesame oil: This one you may not be able to acquire in, let’s say, Avon, South Dakota, but don’t let it stop you. It’s possible to omit and your So Dak friends won’t know the difference.
- Soy sauce: You can go cheap here. It’s no biggie.
- Lime juice: Fresh, again, is best, but concentrated (the kind in the plastic “Real Lime” squeeze thing) is acceptable (but don’t tell Kelly or he’ll freak out).
- Honey: Try to avoid the plastic honey bear-thing, if you can.
- Spice: Fresh jalapeño, Thai or Serrano peppers are best, but Cholula, Tobasco, Tapatio or cayenne pepper will work too.
- Ginger: Fresh or powdered
- Cilantro: Grown yourself is best, of course!
- Red bell pepper: See comment above.
- Carrots: Like two (See both comments above).
- Scallions: (aka, green onions, for all you dirtbags and dudes) one bunch.
[Hayden nailed it (without beta) by buying all natural peanut butter, NOT Jiffy!]
PASTA: Start by boiling water for the noodles. If you aren’t a 5.12 multi-tasker (if you don’t know if you are, then you aren’t), finish the process of cooking the pasta before moving on to anything else. It’s done when you take a piece, bite it in half, and there is just a teeny bit of uncooked-ness remaining in the center. DO NOT overcook. This is probably the most critical step in the process. Over cooked pasta will result in a glutinous mushy mess.
SAUCE: Per each package of pasta (usually 16 oz.) combine the following (warning, you might get pumped unless you have a blender or food processor):
- 3/4 cup peanut butter
- 3 Tablespoons of soy sauce. If you don’t have a tablespoon for measuring, while pouring count “one one thousand” and that will be 3 tablespoons (similar to pouring a shot of booze… I was a bartender in college).
- 5 minced cloves of garlic. Do this with your knife, not one of those barbaric garlic presses that violate the nature of garlic.
- One shot (that’s right, three tablespoons) of lime juice
- One shot each of sesame oil and honey
- Spice is entirely up to you. I like it hot, so I use a couple of minced peppers or a shot of hot sauce. Ultimately you need to consider your hosts/guests tastes before yours.
- The final, super secret ingredient, is a splash of fish sauce. Home chefs can easily find this in a major grocery store, but I doubt you can find it at The Village Store in Yosemite, so don’t stress it if you can’t find it, your masterpiece will still be delicious.
[Since Hayden was having a rest day, I got out the blender]
Mix sauce thoroughly with pasta.
[Topo for veggies.]
- Dice the red bell pepper to about the size of your fingernail.
- I’m not picky about how you use the cilantro. Some people insist you pick the individual leaves off the stem, but I don’t care if you chop up the whole lot, stems and all. Just be sure to rinse it well, dirt ground between your teeth is never a pleasant experience.
- Slice green onions into ¼-inch pieces
- The carrots are probably the most daunting of this recipe’s instructions. I want you to cut them “matchstick” style. Which means exactly as it sounds, cut them so that they look like matchsticks. Don’t ask me why, but they just taste better this way.
[Hayden, making it look easy.]
BONUS STUFF: If you want (and can afford!) to add protein, chicken, shrimp, tofu or shelled edamame are great additions. If you have access to a more abundant market, you can top it off with mung bean sprouts (the fat whitish kind, not the wispy stringy kind that hippies put on bagel sandwiches).
PLATING: Lightly toss veggies with sauced pasta and serve it up to your hungry masses.
[Hey Ladies, looks what’s cooking in my van.]
I guarantee you, if you make this meal for your hosts, AND do the dishes, you will be invited back into their homes for many more years to come. Just don’t leave the toilet seat up…