How to Discover And Enjoy Asian Noodles

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Noodles have a long history in Asia; they’re sold everywhere there and are the “fast food” equivalent of a hamburger or hot dog in the U.S. There are literally hundreds of ways to make and prepare Asian noodles (perhaps I’ll start a series) and most of them are easy to do, filling, and very healthy. They’re made from various flours, including wheat, rice, buckwheat, mung bean, and sweet potato starch, among others. Most Asian noodles in the U.S. are sold dried, but fresh noodles can be acquired where there are large Asian populations.

A few of the varieties are:

Cellophane Noodles-They’re also called glass or transparent noodles, bean threads or bean thread vermicelli. They’re made from the starch of mung beans, are used a lot in Chinese and Southeast Asia cuisines. They’re very thin, brittle, and are white or transparent. When softened, they look translucent are are slippery, soft, and have a gelatin-like texture. These noodles themselves have very little taste, but they’ll soak up the flavors of what’s added to them. They don’t require cooking; just soak them in hot tap water to cover until softened, just 15 minutes. For hot dishes, drain and start with the recipe. For cold dishes and salads, drain, rinse with cold water, rinse again, drain, and go on to the recipe. Be aware that brands of cellophane noodles may vary on soaking times.

Egg Noodles are widely used in Asia and have many different names:tamago somen-Japan, mien-China, hokkien mie-Malaysia and Singapore, and mee-Thailand and Indonesia.  These noodles are available both fresh and dries, thick or thin. To cook these, boil in plenty of salted water until tender, about 4-5 minutes for dried, and 3-4 minutes for fresh.

Sweet Potato Starch Glass Vermicelli-Very similar to cellophane noodles in appearance and texture. And like cellophane, they have little flavor on their own, but are also great at absorbing flavors. Unlike cellophnae, they’re somewhat thicker and plump up better, have more substance, and absorb sauce better. To cook these, cover the noodles with boiling water and set aside to soften for 10 minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water. Rinse again.

Ramen Noodles-These are the crinkly wheat flour noodles that are sold both fresh and dried in just about any U.S. supermarket or grocery store. You can also buy dried packs of these in practically any dollar store (often 5 or more for $1.00). They come with the little packet of seasoning. Many people discard the seasoning pack, which contains MSG, and use their own seasoning, which is probably healthier.

When cooking these, boil the noodles for 2-3 minutes. Actually, they may take a bit longer. Ramen noodles are quite hard, so after 2-3 minutes, try for another 2-3, and then test them. Take out a couple of strands and eat them, because that’s the best way to tell if they’re done to your satisfaction.

Rice Noodles-They come in a variety of shapes and can be thick or thin. When dry, they’re quite brittle, becoming soft and slightly chewy when cooked. There are thin rice sticks/vermicelli-These are round, very thin, similar to angel hair pasta, but thinner and whiter in color. The wider, flat rice stick noodles are known as mi fen (Chinese), bun (Vietnamese), or mihun (Indonesian). These would be used for any pad Thai dishes. For stir-fries, cover both the thin and/or the bigger noodles with boiling water. Soak for 15 minutes. Drain.

To cook completely, place noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. The thicker noodles should be soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes, then brought to a boil for 30 seconds. Drain and rinse or stir-fry until hot.

Soba Noodles-Japanese in origin and are thin, light brown, with a somewhat nutty flavor. They’re rich in fiber and protein, can be sold fresh or dried, plain or flavored, and can be served both hot and cold. Fast cooking, these noodles only need to be boiled for 4-5 minutes, 7 minutes tops. They’re best for hot and cold salads, and are traditionally used in cha soba, an Asian dish flavored with green tea, lemon zest, and black sesame seeds.

Somen Noodles-These are also of Japanese origin, and are usually made from fine wheat flour. They’re the thinnest of the Asian noodles and are sold in packages of individual bundles. To cook, simply separate and boil for 2-3 minutes. Somen can be eaten hot or cold. They’re best for soups and salads or can be served cold with a dipping sauce.

Udon Noodles-This is another Japanese noodle that’s also wheat flour, but unlike the others, water, rather than oil, is an ingredient. They are flat and wide or round, and have a slippery texture. They’re a bit chewier than somen, and need to be cooked longer: 10-12 minutes for dried noodles in boiling salted water. For fresh, 2-3 min. They’re best for soups, stews, stir-fries, casseroles, or just served with dipping broth.

Here are two noodle recipes:

Vegetarian Pad Thai

(Pad Thai is a favorite one-dish meal that’s eaten by the Thais at any time of the day. It’s sold everywhere in their country (Thailand) and there are many variations of it.)

1/4 cup corn oil, divided two eggs, lightly beaten1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips1 carrot, cut into matchsticks 6 garlic cloves. minced1/3 cup fish sauce (nam pla)1/4 cup ketchup1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes1 pkg. (16 oz.) rice noodles, cooked according to pkg. directions (or your sense of when it’s done)1 cup bean sprouts 3 scallions, sliced1/4 cup each chopped fresh cilantro and peanuts

In a skillet over medium heat, cook egg in 2 Tbs. hot oil until set. Roll up and slice. Cook next three ingredients in remaining 2 Tbs. oil for 4 min. Combine next 3 ingredients; toss with noodles. Top with vegetables and egg; garnish with the remaining ingredients.

Total time: about 25 min., give or take Calories: 345 per serving Should serve 8

Thai Noodles In Peanut Sauce

1/2 lb. cellophane noodles or linguini1/4 cup Thai peanut satay sauce, like “Thai Kitchen”2 Tbs. fresh lime juice 3 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro 1 cup thinly sliced radishes

In large saucepot, bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to pkg. directions. Drain well. In a bowl, toss cooked noodles with peanut sauce and lime juice. Stir in chopped cilantro and sliced radishes. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill. Serve garnished with cilantro sprigs and crushed roasted peanuts, if desired.

Total time: 15 min., give or take. Calories: 250 per serving; Should serve 4.

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