Around the Island

Off the fork: Sesame noodles for Chinese New Year

CHARITY ROBEY | Long noodles, red ingredients and tender sprouts make Sesame Noodles full of good luck for the New Year.
CHARITY ROBEY | Long noodles, red ingredients and tender sprouts make Sesame Noodles full of good luck for the New Year.

My mother once taught English as a Second Language to a class of immigrants from Canton, China. I guess she was a popular teacher, because late one January our whole family was invited to a Chinese New Year Party.

Exciting food, gifts for all the kids, lots of merriment; it was the best party I’d ever been to.

Since then, I’ve celebrated Chinese New Year every year. This is the Year of the Horse, and it starts on January 31 — a two-week holiday right when I’m in the mood for some levity.

Although I think you are supposed to clean your home before the holiday starts, once it does, you are not allowed to so much as pick up a broom. Now that is a civilized rule. You celebrate mainly by eating (whole foods, like an entire fish or long noodles), giving treats to children and hanging out with friends and family. Sometimes there are fireworks and crazy relatives dressed in lion outfits, but that’s optional.

The dishes served during Chinese New Year often have some symbolic significance and easy, crowd-pleasing sesame noodles is no exception. The long, uncut noodles symbolize long life. Some of the ingredients are red for good luck (dried peppers, sweet pepper) and some should be young and sprouty to symbolize rebirth (scallions, cilantro).  Remember: don’t touch a broom, lest you sweep away all your good luck for the Year of the Horse.

Sesame Noodles
Serves 4 as a dinner, 6 as a side dish

2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1/2 cup sesame tahini
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 small dried crushed red hot pepper with seeds removed, about 1/2 teaspoon
8 ounces dried lo mein noodles
1 cucumber, peeled only if the skin is tough, and cut into matchsticks, about 1 1/2 cups
1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks, about 1 1/2 cups
1 red bell pepper, seeds and white ribs removed and sliced into matchsticks
4 scallions, white and about an inch of the green part, cut diagonally, about 1 1/2 cups
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cilantro sprigs

In a large bowl, whisk together the garlic, tahini, soy sauce, hoisin, peanut and sesame oils and crushed dried red hot pepper.

Bring five quarts of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the noodles about 3 minutes or according to the package instructions.

Drain the noodles, reserving 3 tablespoons of the water. Rinse the noodles with cold water to stop them from sticking and to cool them.

Whisk the 3 tablespoons of reserved water into the tahini sauce. Add the drained noodles, cucumber, carrot, red bell pepper and scallions and toss together until coated with the dressing.

Season with pepper and garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs. Serve at room temperature.