One of my pre-theater rituals in New York was a plate of spicy cumin lamb noodles at the Xi’an Famous Foods on W. 43rd street. I’d fashion an oversized bib out of napkins to avoid dripping red chili oil on my clothes (I usually did anyway), crouch over my plate, and shovel the slippery noodles into my mouth with chopsticks. I could be in and out of the restaurant and in my theater seat in under an hour, bathroom stop included. That location of the restaurant is closed now, and Broadway is shuttered until at least next January.
My homemade attempt at Xi’an’s lamb noodles is nowhere near the real thing. I just wanted to taste some of those flavors and textures together, maybe in honor of a ritual I didn’t know I was about to lose. I got ground lamb and cooked it like a Thai larb, browning quickly with spices, then adding a splash of soy sauce and a pinch of sugar to get those crispy bits. I tossed with rice noodles and whatever veg would add a pop of color. Here, it’s a couple handfuls of baby spinach and curls of sweet, crisp carrot, though I’ve also loved this with broccoli, yellow squash, and thinly sliced radishes.
This dish is now one of my go-tos when I crave something quick and spicy, but I’m also glad it doesn’t really measure up to the original. It gives me an excuse to go back again soon.
Cumin-Spiced Lamb Noodles
- 2 oz wide rice noodles
- 1 tsp canola oil
- ⅓ lb ground lamb (you could also use ground beef or turkey)
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- Pinch kosher salt
- 2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce, divided
- 2 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar, divided
- 1 generous pinch granulated sugar
- 1 medium carrot
- 1½ cups baby spinach, torn
- Bring about 4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add rice noodles and cook 4-5 minutes or until tender, then drain. If you want to use a heartier veggie, add it to the boiling water in the last couple minutes of cooking.
- Meanwhile, heat an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the lamb, scallion, garlic, cumin, crushed red pepper, and salt. Use a spatula to break up the meat and work in the spices. Cook 3-5 minutes until the meat is browned. Stir in 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. Cook another 3 minutes (you should see some crispy bits in the pan). Remove the pan from the heat.
- Peel the carrot and then keep peeling into wide ribbons, working on one side of the carrot at a time. Add the carrots in a single layer over the lamb in the skillet, then the spinach. Drizzle over the remaining teaspoon each of soy sauce and rice vinegar. Add the hot noodles, cover with a lid, and let sit off the heat a couple minutes until the spinach is slightly wilted, then stir everything together.