It’s believed that the Chinese gave noodles the nod over 4000 years ago. And although there is an ongoing argument between the Italians and the Chinese as to who ‘used their noodle first’, both agree — they should be consumed with sauce.
To the Chinese, noodles are precious because they symbolise longevity. They’re available in varying shapes from flat ribbons to thin strings. In the 9th century the recipe for wheat noodles was adopted and adapted by a Buddhist monk in Japan. Now supermarket shelves are crowded with noodle varieties from all over Asia.
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat from which noodles of the same name are prepared. Dried and very thin they are served hot in soup or cold with a dressing or dipping sauce.
Udon are wheat noodles and considerable thicker. They are sold in vacuum packs and are great in soups or stir-fries.
Rice noodles come in a variety of widths. Flat rice sticks are one to two centimetres wide and require only a few minutes of boiling.
Rice vermicelli looks like semi-translucent, tennis racket strings. The creamy threads are fine, crisp and tough and can be boiled or fried. To fry, cut the dry noodles into shorter lengths with scissors and cook quickly in batches in deep, hot oil.
SOBA NOODLE STIR-FRY
This recipe is based on one from chef Gerrard O’Keefe from the vegan-certified Hectors restaurant at the Heritage Auckland hotel. It’s one of those moreish dishes you could nibble all day. The recipe uses puffed tofu and frozen lotus root. Both are available from Asian food stores.
150g dried soba noodles
1/4 cup rice bran oil
10g dried shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 cups hot water
12 pieces frozen lotus root, thawed
1 tablespoon cornflour
12 pieces puffed tofu
3cm knob root ginger, peeled and julienned
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium carrot, julienned
1-2 chillies, seeded and sliced
2 bok choy, trimmed, sliced lengthwise
Cook the noodles in a large saucepan of boiling water until tender. Drain. Mix with 1 teaspoon of rice bran oil.
Soak the dried shiitake in the hot water for 30 minutes. Drain, squeeze dry and reserve the stock.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan. Dust the lotus root with cornflour. Pan-fry until golden. Drain on paper towels. Stir-fry the tofu until golden on all sides. Place aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a wok. Stir-fry the ginger and garlic, until fragrant. Add the shiitake, carrot and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the noodles and bok choy. Toss then add a little of the strained reserved stock. Heat through.
Carefully add the lotus root and tofu. Do not allow to become soggy. Great topped with sliced and curled spring onions, a sprinkle of sesame oil and sesame seeds. Serves 4.
UDON VEGETABLE SOUP
Comfort food. I used enoki mushrooms — separate them slightly. If using shiitake or button mushrooms, slice before using.
400g vacuum-packed udon noodles
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced into rounds
100g fresh mushrooms eg shiitake, enoki, button
100g snow peas, diagonally sliced
2 tablespoons white miso paste
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain and place aside.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and add the carrot. Cook until crisp-tender. Add the mushrooms and snow peas. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
Place the miso paste in a bowl. Whisk in a little of the hot stock, until the miso is dissolved. Pour back into the saucepan. Add the noodles and warm through — do not boil.
Serve garnished with the spring onion. Serves 4.
CHICKEN VERMICELLI FOR TWO
50g rice vermicelli noodles
1 teaspoon each: canola oil, sesame oil
1 each: shallot, garlic clove, diced
1 skinned and boned chicken breast, cut into 2cm cubes
1 tablespoon finely grated root ginger
6 spinach leaves, chopped
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon each: Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, hoisin sauce
Cook the noodles in a large saucepan of boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and cut into smaller lengths.
Meanwhile, in a large non-stick frying pan, heat the oils over medium-high heat. Sauté the shallot and garlic, until softened. Stir in the chicken and cook until it browns and the juices run clear.
Stir in the ginger, spinach, chicken stock, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and hoisin sauce. Reduce the heat and continue cooking for 5 minutes.
Toss the noodles with the chicken mixture, until well coated. Great sprinkled with chopped spring onion. Serves 2.