How to: Host a Noodle Bar Party

Posted by on Monday Jul 23rd, 2012 | Print

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
Sriracha

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

Ingredients
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch salt
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.

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  • Shayma

    oh my, i adore this. what a fab, delicious idea x

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      thank you, shayma!

  • http://www.athoughtforfood.net/ Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I love this idea… we host a few dinner parties throughout the year, but this is totally creative and I am digging it! 

  • Molly

    Really great idea!  To take it further, I’m gong to jot down a note of the ingredients and use it for those nights when I have no idea what to make for dinner.  This option is almost always going to be possible with things on hand.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      It’s true – it really is a crossover meal: something that’s just as a good a meal for one as it is for company.

  • Jeisenpress

    Great idea–so fun!! Your peanut sauce can’t be beat!! 

  • http://www.crisduh.com/ Christa Cardone

    I’ve been wanting to do this forever! Great tips.

  • TMCT

    I was lucky enough to enjoy the dish, and it was yummy, yummy

    P.S. My left arm is in the picture, guess which one!!!!

  • http://cuisinediplomatic.tumblr.com/ Louisa

    Love it! There’s something about little bowls of foods and everyone helping themselves that always results in the best time. I was thinking about doing something similar but with nasi lemak – perhaps I’ll do noodles instead because this looks ace.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Sounds wonderful – would love to hear more about nasi lemak. I was thinking it could work with ginger scallion noodles too.

  • http://www.easyweeklymeals.com/ Colleen Walsh Fong

    This is a great idea for guests, or just a family meal. I could imagine lots of tweaks to it to match every need, due to all of the gluten free noodles on the market now, especially rice noodles. 

  • Ayegeetee

    Note this is NOT vegetarian due to the Worcestershire sauce!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Good point. Mark Bittman has a recipe for making vegetarian Worcestershire. Or you can leave it out.

  • http://twitter.com/Sarah_Arnusch Sarah_Arnusch

    What a great idea!  I tend to do the Mexican buffet thing a lot too, but my boyfriend really prefers Asian food, so this would be a really nice change for entertaining.

  • Pippa

    I’m super keen to make this for my birthday party next week- approximately how many people would this serve? Such a great idea, thank you!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      The amount listed will serve 6 people – generously. Easily doubled or tripled, but definitely allow more time to make everything. Happy early birthday!

  • Pippa

    I think this idea sounds wonderful- any approximations on how many people the recipe above would serve? Thanks!

  • nikko myers

    Great post!

  • Lin

    This is a traditional Chinese cold noodles eaten during summer. The authentic ingredient in the peanut sauce is to use sesame paste instead of peanut butter, and use soy sauce instead of Worcestershire sauce. Although the taste of Worcestershire sauce taste different, at least the color is the same as soy sauce.