Korean produce markets have gone into the salad bar business. Not only are many of these well-maintained markets open all night, but some of them offer both hot and cold dishes to go.
In the center of the Lele Market on the corner of Second Avenue and 72nd Street, no less than 75 plastic salad compartments bulge with colorful salads, unfamiliar vegetables and dishes that span the ethnic spectrum. Egg rolls, tofu, sesame or cellophane noodle salads, water chestnuts, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, baby corns, mandu (Korean dumplings) and lychees are among the broad sampling of Oriental specialties.
But there are also tabooli and tortellini, graceful stalks of blanched asparagus, sliced purple cabbage or marinated fresh brussels sprouts. The selection could drive a stir-fry cook insane. And that's not to mention the array of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables that rim the store in wooden crates and cartons.
Down the street, there's another Korean all-night salad bar, this one not as impressive in its selection, but nonetheless stocked with large, fresh strawberries and a choice of greens that put Washington's iceberg lettuce palaces to shame. And near Grand Central Station, yet another market stocks several hot Oriental dishes that customers can dish out themselves before hopping the subway or train.
It might be a while until your neighborhood supermarket salad bar starts offering seaweed; in the meantime, you can improvise with this Manhattan-style Express Lane. So long as you have sugar and oil on your shelf, you can stop at an all-night Washington market and make this quick Oriental dish your midnight snack.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: spaghettini, sesame oil, peanuts, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, cayenne, cucumber endcol recipe NOODLES WITH SPICY PEANUT SAUCE (2 to 4 servings)
1/2 pound spaghettini
1 small cucumber
1/4 cup whole roasted peanuts plus 2 tablespoons chopped peanuts
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon oil, preferably peanut
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cook noodles according to package directions. While noodles are cooking, peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise and remove all the seeds. Cut into fine julienne strips. Set aside.
Combine 1/4 cup whole peanuts, sesame oil, garlic, peanut oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, cayenne and 1/4 cup water in a food processor or blender. Blend until you have a smooth sauce.
Pour the sauce over the noodles and toss. Garnish with julienne cucumber and chopped peanuts. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve chilled. agcrdt3 Adapted from "Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking" (Alfred Knopf, $19.95)