For a while, I’ve been looking for an alternative to the make-your-own taco buffet. And the peanut noodle bar is a prime contender.
I know you’re thinking, is she crazy? Why would anyone stray from a meal that includes oodles of guacamole, chips, and chorizo or slow-cooked pork or scrambled eggs, not to mention the chance to eat with your hands and spritz sour cream down the front of your shirt?
I love the taco buffet. And I love listing the merits of the taco buffet, so I’ll run through them right now, right here.
One, almost all the elements can be made ahead.
Two, it’s beyond easy to accommodate every dietary restriction, without making a big deal of it. Vegans can skip the sour cream, cheese, and chicken. Vegetarians can fill their tacos with black beans. Friends who don’t eat gluten can use corn tortillas instead of flour. Light eaters can make skimpy tacos; hungry guests can feast on six overloaded plates.
Three, you can make your spread as extravagant or minimalist as you have time and money for.
Chicken, black beans, cheddar, and sour cream constitutes a taco buffet.
So does chicken, steak, shredded lettuce, chipotle crema, guacamole, tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, pinto beans, roasted peppers and onions, queso fresca, and homemade tortillas.
And four, almost any of the condiments can be prepared by a complete idiot, so if you’re cooking with a group, you can always delegate the job of pouring sour cream into a bowl to one friend and grating cheese to another, while you assume the much more important role of taco buffet CEO and grill master.
Miraculous, apparently irreplaceable. But we’re moving beyond the taco buffet, because every CEO has to have a couple of tricks up her sleeve.
My peanut sauce evokes the most enthusiastic displays of appreciation, and not just from Jordana. Its mix of flavors delivers such surprising savoriness that people can’t help but delight in the sweet-and-spicy richness as it hits their tongues. Plus, it’s incredibly inexpensive to make, and its ingredients come straight from an ordinary supermarket, or from your pantry if it’s well-stocked.
To turn an already delicious bowl of peanut noodles into a festive make-your-own buffet, surround a huge bowl of the noodles, doused in peanut sauce, with chicken and tofu, cucumbers and shredded cabbage, scallions and sesame seeds. Let your guests fill their bowls with noodles, adding whatever toppings capture their fancy.
In other words, the flexible, easy, and cheap peanut noodle buffet suits stipulations one through four above. A taco bar replacement? Maybe, just maybe.
**How to Throw a Noodle Bar Party**
Peanut Noodle Buffet for Six
Cost: about $35, probably less if you have a stocked pantry
Of course, feel free to substitute any add-ons you’d like! Some additional suggestions: roasted scallions, pickled radishes, sliced hard boiled eggs, shredded slow-cooked beef, tempeh, peanuts, and barely cooked string beans or broccoli.
Here’s what you’ll need:
BGSK Peanut Sauce (recipe follows)
2 pounds thick spaghetti (replace with rice noodles to accomodate anyone who’s gluten free)
1 English cucumber, peeled and julienned
Handful cilantro leaves
1 bunch scallions, light and dark green parts, sliced
1 large eggplant’s worth of slices, roasted (instructions for roasting eggplant are in this post)
A cup or two of slivered cabbage, or mayo-less slaw if you happen to have some in the fridge
1 recipe Baked Tofu
3 chicken breasts, poached in boiling water with half an onion, a clove of garlic, and some carrots for about 35 minutes, then cooled and shredded
Toasted sesame seeds
No more than 1 hour in advance, toss the noodles with most of the peanut sauce. Pour the rest of the sauce into a small bowl.
Place each of the other ingredients in its own small plate or bowl. Set the noodles, extra peanut sauce, and other ingredients on your table or counter. Bring out all those extra disposable chopsticks you’ve amassed from ordering takeout sushi and Thai food. Set out small-ish bowls for your guests.
Everything here can be served room temp, so you can arrange your buffet an hour or so in advance. If you do so, cover the noodles, chicken, and tofu, and eggplant with plastic wrap or foil to keep them moist. Place slightly damp paper towels over the cucumbers, scallions, and cabbage, so they don’t dry out.
Instruct guests to serve themselves from the noodles and the toppings. Dig in!
BGSK Peanut Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoons chile paste
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy) preferably natural
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2/3 cup water
Process the ginger and garlic in the food processor until smooth. Add the sugar and salt and process again, until very smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients, up to the water and process until smooth. Add the water. If your food processor is small, you may have to do this in two batches. If you have time, set aside for at least an hour to let the flavors meld. You can also make the sauce a day in advance and refrigerate, though you may have to thin it with water before serving.