Not that most of us need much of an excuse to eat pan-fried noodles, but lucky for us we have two excellent ones this week…
To begin with, Friday is Lunar New Year, a holiday celebrated by 2 billion people across many countries in Asia, including Vietnam, Tibet, South Korea, Vietnam and China. It’s a sacred 15-day celebration; and in normal, non-pandemic times, the hope is that people who live and work far from their hometowns can return to their families to pay respects and celebrate. Each dish eaten at the New Year’s Eve feast symbolizes wishes for something specific and hopeful — good health, unity, abundance, wealth, prosperity and good fortune. That’s where the noodles come in — they are traditionally on the table to symbolize longevity.
The second fantastic excuse we have is this recipe from Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food, an amazing new cookbook by Hsiao-Ching Chou. It is everything I want in a pan-fried noodle dish: Crispy-chewy, salty-stewy, vegetable-packed, centerpiece-worthy and meatless. The book is filled with plant-based recipes for Chinese dishes that run the gamut from simple, everyday dinners (Fried Brown Rice with Oyster Mushrooms, Egg Crepes, and a Seared Tofu with Baby Bok Choy which is my dinner tonight) to celebratory holiday spreads like the eight-course suggested menu for New Year’s Eve.
Are you celebrating the New Year? What are you making?
The recipe note from Hsaio-Ching: “My father loved this dish. The Mandarin name translates roughly to “double-sided golden-brown.” Cooked noodles are then fried in the shape of a cake, which then serves as a canvas for mixed stir-fried vegetables and protein in a gravy-like sauce. The intersection of textures and flavors — crunchy-chewy noodles, crisp-yet-tender vegetables, savory sauce — is a joy to eat.”
Makes 4 servings
For the noodles
6 cups water
8 to 10 ounces fresh Chinese noodles
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the topping
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 stalks green onions, cut into 2-inch segments
1 cup julienned carrots
4 to 6 medium dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 2 to 3 hours, stemmed, and cut into ¼-inch-thick pieces
1 cup roughly chopped gai lan (Chinese broccoli) or other leafy green
8 snow peas, stemmed
1 cup bean sprouts
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon black bean garlic sauce
⅔ cup water
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 teaspoons water
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
⅛ teaspoon white pepper powder
To make the noodles, bring the water to a boil in a medium pot. Cook the noodles for about 2 minutes. Drain well and set aside. Add about ⅛ inch of vegetable oil to a heavy 8- or 9-inch skillet, such as a cast iron. Heat the oil over medium heat until the surface starts to shimmer. Test the temperature by placing a small strand of noodle in the oil. If it immediately fries, the oil is ready. Place half of the noodles in the pan, making sure to arrange the noodles in a disc. Fry on each side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden-to-dark brown but not burnt. Repeat with the remaining noodles. Place on a serving plate and set aside while you make the vegetables.
To make the topping, preheat a wok over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add the vegetable oil and heat until the surface starts to shimmer. Add the onions and stir for 5 seconds. Add the carrots and mushrooms and stir for 10 seconds. Add the gai lan and stir for 30 seconds. Add the snow peas, bean sprouts, soy sauce, black bean garlic sauce, and water. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch slurry, making sure it gets well mixed with the sauce and vegetables. Finish with sesame oil and white pepper powder. Give it one last stir, then pour it over the noodles. Serve while hot.
Also, an important note from the editors: Recently, as you may have heard, there have been attacks on Asian American elderly people in the Bay Area, including one that resulted in the death of an 84-year-old Thai American man. Here is a great video by civil rights activist Amanda Nguyen, and here is a Washington Post article that explains more. If you’re able, please join us in donating to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. We also will be posting more links later this week. Thank you so much.