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Originally published Friday, July 5, 2013 at 12:30 PM

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Nancy Leson likes spicy Korean noodles for cold comfort

Come summer, Leson spends a lot of time in Korean restaurants delving into bowls full of mool naengmyeon or its spicy cousin, bibim naengmyeon.

Seattle Times food writer

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WHEN THE SUN'S high and the temps fly, you might get a jones for a cool, crisp salad.

I want cold Korean noodles.

Come summer, I spend a lot of time in Korean restaurants delving into bowls full of mool naengmyeon or its spicy cousin, bibim naengmyeon.

Locally, mool naengmyeon (say neng-myun) translates as chewy buckwheat noodles nesting in an icy-cold beef broth. Seasoned to suit with a squirt of mustard and rice vinegar, this chiller thriller comes garnished with pickled daikon, Asian pear, cucumber, hard-boiled egg and slices of beef brisket.

Bibim naengmyeon boots the broth and gets its kick from gochujang, a sweet-hot pepper paste that tints my lips orange and splatters my shirt as I slurp. Which is reason enough to take Seattle's "Herbivoracious" author Michael Natkin's advice and make his light, bright vegetarian version at home.

"The thing I love about this dish," Natkin told me, "is it's not a temperature you find in most foods, other than ice cream, and maybe oysters."

While his variation favors translucent (and gluten-free!) dried dangmyeon made from sweet-potato starch, I prefer the classic brown-noodle-y version simply marked "naengmyeon," whose thin strands offer a mix of buckwheat flour, wheat flour and sweet-potato starch. Note to newbies: Korean noodles are confusing; read the labels.

We both agree you'll find all the ingredients for this dish at any well-stocked Asian supermarket (such as Korean superstore H Mart) and promise you'll find cold comfort with your first bracing bite.

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' food writer. Reach her at nleson@seattletimes.com.

Cold & Spicy Korean Noodles

Serves 4

For the sauce

1/4 cup gochujang (Korean chili/soybean paste)

1/2 cup mirin

4 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

In a small bowl, whisk together the gochujang, mirin, rice vinegar, salt and ginger. Refrigerate or, if serving soon, place in the freezer.

For the vegetables and noodles

½ pound thick-stemmed asparagus

12 ounces Korean dangmyeon (sweet-potato starch noodles) or naengmyeon (made with buckwheat, wheat flour and sweet-potato starch)

1 tablespoon toasted Asian (dark) sesame oil

1 cup julienned carrot

12 thin slices cucumber

Kaiware (daikon sprouts), optional

1. Place four good-sized serving bowls in the coldest part of your refrigerator, or in the freezer if serving soon.

2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Set up a large bowl full of ice and water. Remove the coarse part of the asparagus stems and discard. Cut off the tips including 1 inch of stem. Slice the remainder of the stalks lengthwise. Blanch asparagus in boiling water until crisp but tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath, and when chilled, to a small bowl. Refrigerate.

Blanch the carrot for 30 seconds, transfer to the ice bath, then refrigerate. Leave the boiling water going on the stove, adding more water and bringing back to a boil if necessary.

3. Boil the noodles according to package directions, or until firm but chewy (about 6 minutes for the sweet-potato noodles, 4 minutes for the buckwheat version). Drain and transfer to the ice bath.

4. To serve, divide the sauce among the chilled bowls. Drain the noodles, toss with the sesame oil and divide among the bowls. Garnish with asparagus, carrot, cucumber and sprouts (if using). Serve immediately.

— Adapted from Michael Natkin's vegetarian recipe blog, www.herbivoracious.com.

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