Pork and oyster sauce noodles with a side of confession

 P9190435.JPGWeeknight dinners. They're the stuff of countless women's magazine articles, on how to make them faster, cheaper, healthier and hopefully exciting without reaching for a frozen box of processed something. I've tended to handle this problem in one of two ways - the ordering in approach (after all I deserve it - I worked all day), or the slow graze on anything and everything in the kitchen. The latter has been the more popular method recently thanks to my household deficit. So, that means, frankly, that behind the scenes of this blog, I eat a lot of cheese on crackers, or eggs in a basket for dinner. This elaborate feast is often followed by a second course of hummus, or cereal, or frozen dumplings, depending on my mood. That's the truth, and I'm ok with it because at least nothing is processed crap. It works for me, until I get bored and re-inspired that I can do better. I recently found a new option, one that I think you'll love as much as I have. It's a dish that with a bit of advance shopping on the weekend, will have you reaching for that take-out Chinese, or Thai menu a little less in the future.

This discovery was the result of my search to find more Asian-inspired quick dinners, which is just the phase I'm in. Last year all I wanted was Italian. I also realized that my collection of rice noodles, udon noodles, soba noodles, bean threads and various other ingredients I buy on my trips home to Queens were taking over my kitchen cabinet and I had no real plans for them. Don't even ask about my failed attempt to make summer rolls. Last week, on my lunch break I found myself browsing the cookbook section of the New York Public Library, where I found Ken Hom's Quick Wok cookbook. It looked like it could be the solution to my problems. After all, I had almost all the ingredients in my pantry for all the noodle and rice dishes. P8040372.JPG

 The first night I brought this book home dinner plans were another grazing night through the fridge, but I was so anxious to try one of Mr. Hom's recipes that I immediately set out to make this dish, despite the fact that I was missing the star ingredient, ground pork. I prepped the rice noodles (see photo above, the Pad Thai kind) and the ginger and the stir-fry sauce, which is mostly oyster sauce and a little stock. It all came together quicker than I could imagine. As, I was tossing the noodles in the pan and flinging oyster sauce all over my shirt, I realized they looked a little sad. Desperately, I looked for something in the freezer to add to this. Potential options included, frozen sausage, a lone chicken thigh(what was my plan for that?), breakfast sausage, frozen peas, when I spotted a bag of Ikea meatballs that D had bought. Could this work? In a move that was one part genius and one part pathetic, I took a bunch and chopped them up. My brain was mildly disgusted, but my stomach was winning the debate. I quickly added them to the noodles, and told myself it was ingenuity at it's best, and I should send the idea to Ikea Hacker. Now, that you all know how grimy things can get in my kitchen, let me redeem myself and say, after I ate it, I knew the noodles were great and I also knew that I'd have to do better, a lot, lot, better, before I shared this.

This past weekend, off I went to a place where one can find reputable meat, as opposed to cheap bookcases in my neighborhood, The Meat Hook, where I bought enough ground pork (freshly ground when I ordered it) for two weeknight meals of this dish. The flavor of  oyster sauce is pretty pungent so I feel like these noodles would work with ground chicken, or beef or maybe even crumbled tofu, depending on what your eating preferences are. One pound of the meat went in the freezer so that I could avoid being tempted to improvise that much ever again. The other pound got made into the kind of noodle dish I could eat week after week for dinner, and if D hadn't finished all the leftovers, I'd be happy to take it for lunch the next day too.   picnikfile_kLo8dA

 Pork and Oyster Sauce Noodles
Adapted (very little) from Ken Hom's Quick Wok.
8 oz. dried rice noodles
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon light-soy sauce
1 tablespoon oil (canola, peanut, vegetable)
1 pound ground pork
5 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons chicken stock
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
6 tablespoons chopped scallions
Prepare noodles by soaking them in a bowl of very hot/boiling water from about 15-20 minutes or until soft. Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with sesame oil and soy sauce and set aside.
While noodles are soaking, gather all your other ingredients and chop ginger and scallions. It all comes together quick, so be ready. Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and meat and stir-fry 2 minutes. Drain off a little of the grease from the meat. Add the oyster sauce, stock and the sugar and continue cooking another 3 minutes, until meat looks mostly cooked through. Add the noodles, ginger, and scallions and stir-fry until everything looks incorporated and meat is cooked through, about 2-3 minutes more.
Serves 4 normal people, or 2 people with a warped sense of normal serving sizes.


Cold sesame noodles are ubiquitous on Chinese take-out menus but I've never been a huge fan. The cold sticky sloppy mess of noodle just never appealed to me as much as other options. Then one day I was looking around for something to do with soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles, if you're not familiar with them). They are one of my favorite healthy go-to staples in the pantry and what reminded me this would be a good submission for Fight Back Fridays. Soba are often served in noodle soups, or served cold with a dipping sauce. That is what gave me the idea for this dish. A noodle salad that I could whip up for work week lunches, as well as a light dinner that would be more substantial than a green salad. The items that you add in can be altered to suit your preferences or what's in your fridge that night.

A quick dressing of creamy peanut butter (all-natural of course), soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and honey are blended together to make the dish. I think the peanut-sesame combo is the key here. Peanut-sauce is often too much peanut-butter flavor with nothing else. Here, when mixed with the soy sauce and enough heat (from red pepper flakes or sriracha) it is more balanced and, frankly more interesting than the one-note flavor it has on its own.

The only add-ins to this salad I strongly suggest be included are chopped scallions and cilantro, to keep with a South-Asian flair. These flavors just work together and brighten up the peanut-flavored sauce. The rest is up to you. Make a batch of this to have on hand during a hectic week of pre-Thanksgiving cooking madness. As long as the dressing is made, you only have to take the 3 minutes to boil the soba noodles to pull it all together. Save yourself from greasy take-out in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Or, take this for lunch the week after, because there are only so many leftover turkey sandwiches that any person should have to endure.

Peanut Sesame Soba Noodle Salad Adapted from Recipezaar. Do not dress the noodles too far in advance or they may get a bit soggy. For the dressing: 1/2 cup smooth all-natural peanut butter 1/4 cup soy sauce 1/3 cup warm water 2 tablespoons peeled fresh ginger, chopped 1-2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil 3 teaspoons honey 1/2 teaspoon crushed chili pepper flakes or sriracha

For the salad: 1/2 package soba noodles, cooked and rinsed under cold water 3 scallions, chopped (green and white parts) 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thick strips 1/2 cucumber, seeded and chopped 1 large handful of cilantro

Using a blender puree all the dressing ingredients until smooth (about 2 minutes). Alternatively, whisk all ingredients until they appear well combined.

Cook the soba in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender about 2-3 minutes; drain and rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer to a large bowl, then add in the remaining salad ingredients.

Just before serving pour the dressing over the cooked pasta and veggies. Toss well to combine.