Cool Chinese noodles help beat heat tastefully


On hot summer days when we're hungry (or too hot to be hungry but know that we should eat), we usually turn to easy home-style dishes we've learned on our travels through Asia. This simple Chinese menu -- with its spice and crunch -- is sure to liven up wilted palates.

This menu contains 575 calories, with 25 percent of calories from fat.

First things first

1. Slice and salt cucumbers for salad. Cut up peppers for stir-fry.

2. Heat water for noodles.

3. Make peanut sauce and dressing for salad.

4. Cook noodles and combine with sauce.

5. Drain, rinse and dry cucumbers and toss with dressing.

6. Stir-fry peppers.

This sauce is spicy-hot with cayenne and savory with soy sauce, vinegar, scallions and garlic. It coats the noodles beautifully. In China's Sichuan province, the sauce is traditionally paired with wheat noodles and served either hot or cold.

Noodles with spicy peanut sauce

Makes about 4 cups, for 4 servings

1/3 cup smooth natural peanut butter

1/2 cup finely chopped scallions

1/4 cup cider vinegar or rice vinegar

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

3/4 pound soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles)

In a bowl, mix peanut butter with 1/2 cup boiling water until smooth. Stir in scallions, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and ground red pepper; set aside.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles until just tender, about 3 minutes.

Drain noodles and transfer them to a serving bowl. Pour on reserved peanut sauce and toss to combine. Serve hot or at room temperature, which is the traditional Chinese way.

Notes: The noodles with spicy peanut sauce can be made an hour or two in advance and served at room temperature.

Soba noodles contain some sodium; if you are on a low-sodium diet, substitute whole-wheat spaghetti.

Natural or unhydrogenated peanut butter contains less cholesterol-raising fat than the smooth processed types.

Per serving: 425 calories 19 g protein, 12 g fat (2.1 g saturated fat), 70 g carbohydrate; 1,035 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fiber.

Here is a light-handed stir-fry that is easy to prepare and very pretty.

Rainbow peppers

Makes about 4 cups, for 4 servings

4 bell peppers of assorted colors (red, yellow, orange, green)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil, preferably peanut

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Cut peppers in half lengthwise and take out the veins and seeds. Cut crosswise into very thin slices ( 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide).

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. When the oil is hot, add garlic and stir-fry until lightly golden, about 30 seconds. Toss in the peppers and stir-fry until barely tender, about 2 minutes. Add salt and sugar and stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a serving plate and serve immediately.

Nutrition note: Peppers are a good source of vitamin C; one serving of rainbow peppers contains 67 mg -- more than the RDA.

Per serving: 45 calories, 1 g protein, 2 g fat (0.2 g saturated fat), 6 g carbohydrate; 270 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 1 g fiber.

This refreshing salad is often served as an hors d'oeuvre in Taiwan, as it has a distinctive fresh taste that holds up well when served all by itself.

Cucumber-sesame salad

Makes about 2 cups, for 4 servings

1 pound European cucumbers (1 medium or 2 small), scrubbed

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons rice vinegar or red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Trim ends and cut cucumbers lengthwise into quarters. Scoop out the seeds, cut each quarter lengthwise into 3 or 4 sections, then cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths. Place the cucumber sticks in a colander, sprinkle with salt and gently mix to ensure all are salted. Set the colander over a bowl to drain for 20 minutes.

Rinse the cucumber sticks thoroughly with cold water, wrap in a clean kitchen towel and gently squeeze dry. Place in a shallow serving dish.

In a small bowl, stir together vinegar, ginger, oil, sugar and red-pepper flakes. Pour over the cucumbers and toss gently to coat.

Nutrition note: Sesame oil is low in saturated fatty acids.

Per serving: 40 calories, 1 g protein, 2 g fat (0.3 g saturated fat), 5 g carbohydrate; 105 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 1 g fiber.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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