Every year around this time, I start to become giddy at the prospect of a long summer of cook-outs. And the excitement usually lasts about an hour, until I remember I don't actually have an apartment with outdoor space.
I have spent the bulk of my post-collegiate years in enormous cities with no breathing room (New York, Beijing, Shanghai). Outside space meant a fire escape, at best. With each passing year, outdoor cook-outs become less of a reality and more of a quaint abstract idea, like white picket fences and rent control. Aside from cozying up to friends and family in other states, I have become used to barbecue-less summers.
Until this year. This year I am the proud resident of an apartment with a guestimated 120 square feet of terrace space. With a grill. In New York. (Okay, Brooklyn, but still.) This may not seem like much, but I'm excited. This summer I'll be able to cook while communing with nature, even if "nature" just means a few trees that muffle the traffic noise from Atlantic Ave.
So what do I like to make for cook-outs? You really can't go wrong with steak, garlic bread, salad, and stuff with bacon bits. Maybe some shrimp skewers here and there. Traditional, 100% Americana. But because I write this blog and teach Chinese cooking classes, a lot of people come over and expect some sort of Asian food. Fair enough. Traditional outdoor cooking in China is a little more rudimentary and don't come with "sides" other than rice, but there's still plenty you can do for an alternative to steak and iceberg lettuce salad.
Sometime in the near future I'm going to have a Southeast Asian-themed fest. For the meat, maybe some lemongrass shrimp and chicken. A Vietnamese pomelo salad to start, a light lychee or rambutan fruit salad to finish. Drinks might include beer, Thai iced tea, and avocado shakes (which can, and should, also double as dessert).
And these red curry peanut noodles will make a filling side, a great alternative to the pasta salad dish. This recipe is purely an outline, and is endlessly adaptable. You can use spaghetti or linguini for the noodles in place of Asian wheat or egg noodles. If you want the sauce spicier, add a tablespoon more of red curry paste; if you want it sweeter, add a tablespoon more of sugar. I like shredded carrots and broccoli stems, but try cucumbers, green mangoes, or mâche. Carnivorous? Add some shrimp or shredded cooked chicken breast.
Also, the more you give your guests to eat and drink, the less likely they are to notice just how small ("cozy") your outdoor space is.
Red Curry Peanut Noodles
- 8 ounces dried spaghetti or linguini
- 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons red curry paste
- 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 cup shredded broccoli stems
- 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
- Lime wedges for serving
- Cilantro for garnish (optional)
- Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water until the pasta is cool.
- In a food processor, combine the peanut butter, curry paste, broth, lime juice, and sugar. Puree, then add sea salt to taste.
- In a large bowl, toss the cooled pata with the peanut butter mixture, shredded carrots, shredded broccoli stems, and peanuts until well-coated. Serve with lime wedges and garnish with cilantro.