Above is a picture of a recent lunch that was very simple to make because I had bean thread noodles on hand.
I find bean thread noodles to be a very handy pantry item. Bean thread noodles are made from mung bean starch: the same mung beans that are sold as common sprouts. The noodles go by a number of names including cellophane noodles, glass noodles, Chinese vermicelli, transparent noodles, and long rice.
White or translucent when dry, they become clear and glassy when cooked. I love their slippery texture and readily add them to soups and simple stir fries.
I have seen bean thread noodles produced in Taiwan, Thailand, and China. I prefer the noodles made in Taiwan and sold in 1 pound bags composed of 8 bundles of noodles, 2 ounces each. These brands soak more evenly and don’t stick together when soaked for cooking. They’re packaged in cellophane, and some have red or pink rubber bands binding the individual bundles, while others are packaged in pink netting (see my picture above).
These noodles can be softened in hot water and then added to soups or stir fries. For rubber-band firm noodles to be used in stir fries, soak the noodles in warm tap water. After about 30 seconds they should be soft and ready to use. (You can let them sit in the water until you are ready to use them. They won’t soften further.) If you want a softer noodle to add to soups, soak them in very hot tap water. After about 30 seconds, drain the noodles so they don’t continue become mushy. They can also be deep fried and used as a light, crispy bedding for a delicate and delicious topping.
The noodles are very long, so I like to cut them in half for more manageable lengths. After you’ve soaked and softened them, reach in and cut them with scissors.
The other day I was scrounging around for something to eat and came up with the following. You can follow this recipe or use it as a jumping-off point, substituting other vegetables or herbs at will. Or, skip the meat all together for a vegetarian twist. Use your imagination!
Bean thread Noodles with Veal, Tomatoes, and Mint
Serves 2-3 for lunch
Ingredients for the Marinade:
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Mirin
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Ingredients for the Stir Fry:
- 4 ounces bean threads, 2 small bundles, soaked in warm tap water and drained
- 1/2 pound ground veal, chicken, pork, or turkey
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 3 tablespoons minced red onion
- 2/3 cup chicken stock
- 1-2 tablespoons soy
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cups scallions, minced
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
Combine the meat with the the marinade ingredients of soy, Mirin, and cornstarch. Mix it well and let it sit to meld the flavors while you prepare the other ingredients.
Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat. When the pan is hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact, add the vegetable oil. Swirl the oil to coat the pan. Then add the ginger and red onion. Stir quickly until fragrant and beginning to cook. Next add the meat and cook and stir, breaking up any clumps, until the meat is gray. Add the stock and remaining 1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the noodles. Cover the pan and allow the noodles to absorb the liquid and for everything to get heated through. Remove the lid and add the tomatoes. Turn off the heat and toss gently. Then add the scallions. Toss the mixture again very gently. Remove to serving bowls and scatter mint on top.
I couldn’t eat all of this dish at once, so I enjoyed the leftovers for the next couple of days. They were tasty cold, but also worked heated lightly in the microwave.