Christopher is a beach minimalist. He likes as little as possible between himself and the sun, sand, and surf. His towel, some water, and the No. 1 from Jams (turkey, honey mustard, red onion on a baguette) are all he needs for his perfect beach day, which is just about any day we don’t see a nor’easter or a tropical storm.
Even his bathing suit becomes excess baggage as he crests the dune somewhere between Long Nook and Ballston.
I, on the other hand, have a more complicated relationship with the beach. While I never tire of gazing out into the vastness of the ocean, my ideal seaside experience requires a bit of set up. You might say I’m a beach maximalist. At the very least, I need a chair, a wide umbrella, some iced Albariño, and a tasty lunch. While I have nothing against Jam’s No. 1, one wants some variety.
My perfect beach day would include a beach assistant to help with all the things I need to protect me from the sun, sand, and surf, and from hunger and thirst. I do have a capacious backpack for my towel, a novel, and some of my New Yorker backlog. I also have an umbrella with a shoulder strap and an insulated picnic basket for my lunch.
I have a regular round of dishes that make for great beach food. Some are too elaborate to make often — think cold fried chicken with lovage-spiked potato salad. But most are very simple, easily thrown together the morning of.
Cold sesame noodles remain at the top of my beachgoing list year after year. They’re salty, sweet, and spicy. Slippery and crunchy at the same time, they hold up to the trek through the cranberry bog and over the dunes, and are best served at beach temperature. Plus, they go perfectly with iced Albariño. I toss a pair of chopsticks and a little travel-size bottle of sriracha into my bag and I’m good to go.
I’ve made this dish about a million times and, while to my mind this version is the best, the recipe is very forgiving. No fresh or frozen Chinese noodles? No problem. Though they really are better with the thick, slippery Chinese noodles, I sometimes use spaghetti or even soba noodles when that’s all I have on hand.
You can use chili crisp or chili oil if you don’t have garlic chili paste. I also use whatever kind of tahini is available, though the Chinese variety improves the dish because the sesame seeds are toasted before being ground, which imparts an earthy note. I’ve even made these noodles with just peanut butter (including the crunchy kind) when that’s all I have on hand. If you do that, it helps to add a little extra toasted sesame oil to punch up the sesame-ness. Whatever vegetables you have on hand for julienning deserve consideration — zucchini, for example. I’ve been known to add turnips. Bean sprouts? Toss them in. Jicama? Why not? Snow peas, red or yellow pepper, mint — it’s hard to go wrong.
One very important detail: After rinsing the noodles in cold water to stop the cooking, dress them with a generous splash of sesame oil and mix them well (I use my hands). Chill the noodles some. Then add as much sauce as you’d like to the chilled noodles when you’re packing up for the beach. I like them saucy, so this recipe makes more sauce than some others. (If you have any extra, it’s good on shredded Napa cabbage.) Because pasta tends to suck up any liquid in which it’s stored, adding the sauce at the last minute will avoid the problem of dry noodles.
Cold Sesame Noodles
1 lb. Chinese-style noodles, frozen or fresh
(or ¾ lb. dried noodles such as spaghetti)
4 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil, plus a splash
6½ Tbsp. soy sauce
4 Tbsp. rice vinegar
4 Tbsp. Chinese sesame paste
2 Tbsp. smooth peanut butter
1½ Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. finely grated ginger
4 tsp. minced garlic
4 tsp. garlic chili paste
Half a cucumber
¼ cup roasted peanuts
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to their specific directions until barely tender. They should remain a bit chewy. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and shake off most of the water. Then toss the noodles with a splash of sesame oil and pop into the refrigerator to chill completely.
Peel, seed, and cut the cucumber into thin sticks. Scrub the carrot and pare it into thin sticks.
Wash the scallions and slice the white and green parts thin. Chop the peanuts.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 4 tablespoons of sesame oil, the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame paste, peanut butter, sugar, ginger, garlic, and garlic chili paste.
If serving immediately, pour the sauce over the noodles and toss, transfer to a serving bowl, and garnish with the vegetables, scattering on the scallions and peanuts last. If reserving for later, store the noodles and sauce separately in the refrigerator and toss them together just before serving.
The name notwithstanding, cold sesame noodles is a dish best served at room temperature, to allow the sauce to loosen up and coat the noodles well.