The Five Heaps


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    as a main course .

Appears in

The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking

By Barbara Tropp

Published 1982

  • About

Systems of interrelated fives pop up everywhere in Chinese culture. There are the Five Elements, the Five (Confucian) Relationships, the Five (Mythic) Emperors, the Five (Historic) Dynasties, the Five Colors, the Five Constant Virtues, the Five Flavors . . . So why not the Five Heaps?

  • That is my playful nickname for one of my favorite warm-weather dishes—a mound of cold sesame-sauced noodles surrounded by five colorful piles of crisp vegetables. It is a thoroughly impromptu dish that may have four heaps or six depending on whim and the market, or no heaps at all if you prefer your noodles straight.
  • This is a good, cheery dish for light eating alone, or an easy way to entertain company. It is also portable enough for a picnic or potluck dinner, and a dish that is certain to mix well with a variety of foods. Preparations may be done up to a day in advance, with only a few minutes needed to assemble the platter.


Sauce ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons untoasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Five-Flavor Oil
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese sesame paste
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons unseasoned Chinese or Japanese rice vinegar
  • teaspoons sugar
  • scant ¼ teaspoon Roasted Szechwan Pepper-Salt
  • ¼–½ teaspoon chili oil (optional)

The five heaps

  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 1 cup of a crisp green (choose one):
  • slivered fresh snow peas or sugar snap peas
  • slivered string beans or Chinese longbeans, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • slivered celery hearts and inner ribs, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • slivered seedless cucumber
  • 1 cup julienned or shredded carrots
  • 1 cup shredded radishes
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) slivered Black Forest-type ham or cooked chicken

To garnish

  • coarsely chopped fresh coriander


Preparing the noodles

Cook the noodles as directed. Drain well, then toss with 1½ teaspoons of the premeasured Five-Flavor Oil. Once oiled, the noodles may be sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before saucing.

Toasting the seeds and mixing the sauce

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over moderate heat, stirring until golden, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 teaspoon of the toasted seeds for a garnish.

Add the remainder to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife and process until coarsely ground. Scrape the seeds into a small dish, return the steel knife and the remaining sauce ingredients to the bowl, then process until homogenized. Taste and add chili oil if desired. The mixture should be very zesty and high-seasoned if it is to stand up to the noodles and the trimmings. Return the ground seeds to the work bowl, combine with several on-off turns, then scrape the sauce into a bowl. Seal airtight and let stand at room temperature, overnight if desired, to develop the flavors. Use the sauce at room temperature. Alternatively, crush all but 1 teaspoon of the sesame seeds in a mortar or blender. Combine the remaining sauce ingredients in a blender or by hand, then complete the sauce as above.

Preparing the five heaps

Blanch the bean sprouts for 30 seconds in plain boiling water to cover. Drain, then rush under cold running water to stop the cooking. Cover with cold water and refrigerate until use.

Blanch snow peas, sugar snap peas, string beans, or longbeans until tender-crisp. Test for timing with a single sliver. Drain, chill under cold water, and shake off excess water. Refrigerate, if desired, spread on a plate and sealed airtight. Pat dry before using.

The remaining vegetables and the coriander should be cut only shortly before serving.

Assembling the salad

Just before serving, drain the bean sprouts and spread them on a lint-free towel to blot up excess water. Pour the sauce over the noodles, mixing well with your fingers to separate and coat the strands. Mound the noodles in the center of a large serving platter, then ring the noodles with the five heaps, alternating the colors for the prettiest effect. Sprinkle the reserved sesame seeds on top of the noodles, and serve.

Invite your guests to help themselves to a bit of everything and to toss the many heaps into one colorful heap in their bowls.

Leftovers keep 1–2 days, refrigerated and sealed airtight.