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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.