Whole-wheat sesame noodles with rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil and scallions. Whole-grain and kid-friendly.
I met Robin in the spring of 2013 in the locker room at the gym and within 10 minutes of talking to her, I knew we would be friends. By the end of the conversation, we had discussed high intensity interval training, we’d debated which sucks more, a violently fast child birth or a 24 hour labor (she had an 11 month old and my youngest was 4) and lamented our struggles with getting back into running after having kids. By the end of the conversation we exchanged email addresses. Less than a week later I had signed up to run on her team for the Vermont City Marathon. I barely knew her, but I was thrilled to have an excuse to run, and to have a new friend.
Then a few weeks later, days before the race was to happen, I got an email from her letting me know that they had gotten terrible news and wouldn’t be able to run in the race. Her 1 year old daughter had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and they had to take her to Boston for surgery.
Though I barely knew Robin and had never met her daughter Alison, my heart immediately broke for her, and I was so saddened by the news.
During those first few months when Alison was first diagnosed, Robin was told that Alison’s cancer had caused her to be deemed “failure to thrive” and was at 2% for weight. Her doctors wanted to use a feeding tube. Through the chemo and surgeries Robin said, “I hand fed her little bites of avocado. I put peanut butter inside o cereal… Pumpkin seeds.” She was desperate to feed her anything she could to get nutrient dense calories into her daughter.
“She was not eating much and she was a skinny spider. I literally would go through the health food store when I shopped and I would buy anything that I could possibly feed a 12 month old with cancer. Literally hundreds of dollars of food, I would just put in all in my cart. And then I found the noodles. They were small and slippery and they were super strong flavored and she loved them.”
Fast forward, to the spring of 2015. Alison has gone through treatments, therapies and surgeries and through it all she continues to love her sesame noodles. After what Robin tells me are many trash-bags full of pint-sized take-out containers, Robin asked me if I would be willing to reverse engineer the sesame noodles. “I don’t want to tell you how much money I have spent on those things. It’s embarrassing. I have been buying them for two years, a seven dollar container of sesame noodles every week. Sometimes twice a week! For Two Years!” She said she had tried to figure out how to make them herself, but every time Alison rejected them.
I told her I would be happy to try. Robin even bought me a few containers to see for myself what they were like.
When I tasted them, I could certainly see the attraction. They are very simple and have a strong toasted sesame oil flavor. They are a little sweet and a little sour too. There are a few scallions here and there, and they little specks of black sesame to add an interesting little crunch. The texture of the dressing on the noodles is a little greasy almost. I can see why Alison would love them, they’re perfect for slurping!
Despite their seeming simplicity and the ingredients listed on the package, it took me several tests to get the right flavor and texture. I wanted to make sure that the ingredients I used were not too hard to find so I swapped in a few more common grocery store ingredients. I discovered that the key to the texture is rinsing the noodles after they are cooked to was off the excess starch. That gives them the slippery texture. I finally sent over the recipe for an “Alison test” with fingers and toes crossed. “Whoop Whoop She ate them!!!!” Was what Robin’s email said. She even sent a picture of Alison inhaling a plate of them. I don’t think I have ever felt more honored to have someone like one of my recipes.
Alison just turned 3 this month and is currently taking a break from chemo. She has recently had another surgery in Boston and is doing remarkably well. Her language has exploded, and she is even going to pre-school. Robin has told me she is also working on broadening Alison’s culinary horizons, but is continuing to make these homemade noodles regularly. You can read more about Alison’s journey and about local fund-raising efforts for her and her family or donate here.
Alison's Sesame Noodles, whole-wheat linguini with toasted sesame oil, scallions and black sesame seeds.
- 10 ounces whole-wheat linguini
- 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 4 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon agave
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook linguini until al dente according to package directions. Drain in a colander. Rinse the linguini with cold running water until cold and drain well again.
- Meanwhile, whisk sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, agave and salt in a large bowl .
- Add noodles to the vinegar mixture and toss to coat. Add scallions and sesame seeds and toss to combine. Chill.