The Cookstr 10: Ten Asian Noodle Dishes
“Noodle”–the very word is awesome. Fun to say, fun to eat, comforting, adaptable, multi-cultural. A while back we devoted an issue of The Cookstr 10 to the pleasures of Italian pasta (though of course we only scratched the surface), and now it is Asian noodles that are permeating our thoughts, like gently heated sesame oil wafting through our minds. Noodles are the centerpiece of so many Asian cuisines, and the variety of types of noodles and cooking techniques is mind-boggling. Soba, rice, wheat, egg, cellophane, ramen. Crispy and pan-fried, skinny and slippery with a dipping sauce, fat and pillowy in a soup, stir-fried with everything from pork to bean sprouts. Dried, fresh, long, short, hot, cold. Hokkien, pho, chow mein, pad thai, hakka, dan dan…we want to try each and every one of them. It’s good to have goals.
1. Mark Bittman’s Korean-Style Noodles in Cool Bean Broth. Udon noodles are one of our very favorites: they’re thick and chewy and eminently sustaining. A chilled broth made from cooked soybeans (edamame), nuts, sesame, and a bit of soy sauce is ladled all around a pile of cold udon noodles, garnished with some cucumber, sesame, hot pepper, and scallion, and ready to be swished and slurped.
2. Katie and Leeann Chin’s Stir-Fried Pork and Broccoli with Egg Noodles. We love a recipe that is essentially a blueprint to use up whatever you have in your fridge, or whatever beckons to you at the supermarket. This calls for pork, but you may use beef or chicken in its place, and instead of broccoli try bok choy or snow peas or asparagus….A very light, very simple sauce pulls together whatever ingredients you select.
3. Nancie McDermott’s Paht Thai Noodles. Many people first fall in love with Thai food after tasting Paht Thai (also spelled Pad Thai), which is virtually the national noodle dish of Thailand. The foundation is long flat rice noodles, which are soaked briefly in hot water before being drained and joining the other ingredients in a lively, textural stir-fry punctuated by garlic, egg, shrimp, peanuts, bean sprouts, and–the flavor that puts the “ahh” in Paht Thai–fish sauce.
4. Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner’s Egg Noodles with Lemongrass and Herbs. Lemongrass is a wonderful ingredient, with an herbally-citrusy note that kind of clears the senses. You can use either fresh or dried noodles in this dish, and with its light flavors of lemon, scallions, ginger, and cilantro these noodles are an easy and bracing partner for simple roasted meats, such as chicken or pork.
5. James Beard’s Beef and Scallops with Cellophane Noodles. Combining seafood and meat creates some extremely interesting dishes, and the opulent firmness of both the beef and the scallops play nicely against the whimsical puffed-up crunchiness of the cellophane noodles.
6. Ellie Krieger’s Asian Noodle Bowl. This is a great way to experiment with soba, the thin buckwheat noodles that are a mainstay of Japanese cooking. Sometimes they are served cold with a dipping sauce, and sometimes hot in a brothy soup, like this one here. Whole-wheat spaghetti can also be substituted, and the dish is a blank canvas waiting to be filled with whatever vegetables are at your disposal.
7. Didi Emmons’ Crispy Chinese Noodles with Eggplant and Peanuts. Fresh Chinese wheat noodles are transformed into the most amazing crispy pan-fried pancake, which forms a jaunty cap for a light eggplant-based stir-fry. The crunch of the peanuts is a nice echo to the crunch of the pancake.
8. Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hearty Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup. Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, its birthplace somewhere near Hanoi, with a mixture of French and Chinese influences. This version has the requisite flavorful broth, a swirl of rice noodles, and slices of beef that are the main components of pho. In Vietnam, the belief is that pho is a very powerful dish, able to re-establish balance, restore the spirit, and heal. We’re sold.
9. Andrew Chase’s Chinese Braised Mixed Mushroom Noodles. In this Chinese-influenced vegetable dish, a combination of fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms leaves no one wondering, “Where’s the beef?” (or pork or whatever). Wheat noodles are entwined with several kinds of mushrooms and then all seasoned up with oyster sauce, ginger, green onions, toasty pine nuts, and some other light seasonings that let the forest of fungi have their moment.
10. Nina Simonds’ Vietnamese Shrimp and Fennel Salad. Thin stick rice noodles are softened and then mixed with fresh fennel, grated carrots, pungent herbs, and plump shrimp, then all glazed with a limey sweet-and-sour dressing.