Yearning For Spicy Chinese Noodles

Comfort me -- with spicy Chinese noodles.
Comfort me — with spicy Chinese noodles.

A sense of deep wistfulness came over me as I read Ruth Reichl’s latest book, “Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir.”

And if you haven’t yet read her newest memoir (Random House), of which I received a review copy, you ought to pronto, especially if you were a fan of the dearly missed Gourmet magazine.

When she was the restaurant critic for the New York Times, Reichl was offered the top job at the country’s oldest epicurean magazine. Initially, she actually turned down the job as editor-in-chief of Gourmet. But she eventually reconsidered, realizing the strong pull the magazine had on her since she first leafed through its pages when she was 8 years old.

The book takes you behind the scenes of the iconic magazine, recounting how Reichl turned it around from a publication that had grown stale with ladies-who-lunch fare to one that was ground-breaking in design and text. It thrilled and surprised — until it was no more, shuttered because profit margins weren’t high enough.

I was a long–time subscriber to the magazine. But I had forgotten just how pioneering it had been. It was illuminating to revisit the topics it covered, enlisting some of the country’s best writers — not just best food writers — to pen stories never seen before, including the plight of the Immokalee farm workers in Florida, who picked the industrial tomatoes that flood supermarkets, under conditions that verged on modern-day slavery.

Or the shocking fall-out that occurred when Reichl dared to put a gloriously whimsical cake covered in cupcakes on the cover of the magazine, which somehow ended up offending a number of readers. Go figure.

Reading this book made me miss Gourmet all the more. Is it me or have so many food magazines these days just been so dumbed-down? I miss the thoughtfulness, intelligence and sophistication that Gourmet had.

So after turning the last pages of this book, as nostalgia filled me with melancholy, I couldn’t help but step into the kitchen to cook up a batch of Reichl’s “Spicy Chinese Noodles.”

Sprinkled through the book are just a few recipes. This dish is one that a stressed Reichl makes late at night after getting home after a rough day at work, only to find her young son still up, waiting for her.

Even though he had eaten dinner hours earlier, he is still hungry, for both food and his mother’s attention. And she wants nothing more than to comfort him. This dish does exactly that — for both of them.

It’s a fast dish to make, with a heap of noodles tossed generously with ground pork, ginger, scallions, black bean paste and chili bean paste. It’s spicy, salty, savory and pungent — just what you want in late-night food. It’s like the tangle of Chinese noodles you love to eat out of a restaurant take-out container with chopsticks while sitting on the couch and watching TV. Only, it’s even more homey tasting.

And it thoroughly fills the hunger of any emptiness.

A soul-satisfying bowl of noodles.
A soul-satisfying bowl of noodles.

Spicy Chinese Noodles

(Serves 2)

1/2 pound Chinese noodles, dried egg noodles or spaghetti

Peanut oil

1/2-inch-long piece of fresh ginger

2 scallions

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons Chinese black bean paste with garlic

1 tablespoon Chinese bean paste with chili

1/2 pound ground pork

Sesame oil

Cook the noodles in boiling water until al dente (the time will vary with the type of noodle). Drain, toss with a half tablespoon of peanut oil, and set aside.

Peel and mince the ginger (you should have about 2 tablespoons).

Chop the white parts and slice the green parts of the scallions.

Mix the sugar and the two kinds of bean paste, and set aside.

Heat a wok until a drop of water skitters across the surface. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil, toss in the ginger, and stir-fry for about half a minute, until the fragrance is hovering over the wok.

Add the pork and white scallions and stir-fry until all traces of pink have disappeared. Add the bean sauce mixture and cook and stir for about 2 minutes.

Stir in the green scallions and noodles, and quickly toss. Add a drop of sesame oil and turn into two small bowls. This makes a perfect snack for two.

From “Save Me the Plums” by Ruth Reichl

Another Ruth Reichl Recipe to Try: Spicy Korean Rice Sticks with Shrimp and Vegetables

More Asian Noodle Recipes: My Mom’s Tomato Beef Chow Mein

And: Hand-Torn Noodles with Cumin Lamb

And: Pan-Fried Pho Noodles

Plus: Sichuan Pork Ragu

And: Vietnamese Escargot Vongole

And: World’s Easiest Noodle Soup

And: Cold Udon with Fresh Tomatoes

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  • I haven’t read that book yet, but I want to. I SO miss _Gourmet_ — what a terrific magazine. I was just cleaning out some things and came across about half a dozen old issues, and promptly “wasted” several hours reading through them. Sigh. Anyway, love dishes like this — very nice. Thanks.

  • John: You are SO lucky to have so many vintage issues. I wish I had kept more of mine. I think I have just one or two. They are truly precious.

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