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What often comes to mind when thinking about noodles is a filling, inexpensive food, but something a bit on this side of drab or fattening.
Visualize boiled noodles with a tepid sprinkle of parsley or noodles in a heart attack happy Alfredo sauce.
But Helen Chen’s “Easy Asian Noodles” helps even the fledgling cook prepare noodles in a tasty and healthy way. Chen is the daughter of the late Asian cooking legend Joyce Chen.
When not at her home in Lexington, Mass., enjoys spending time with her husband, Keith Ohmart, at their get-away place in Gouldsboro.
Chen says noodles are a staple in the Asian diet because, like rice, they are the starch in the meal and bulk up a dish without additional expensive or limited ingredients such as meat and seafood.
Noodles in her culture symbolize long life and, for that reason, are often long in length and are featured in celebrations such as birthdays.
Many of Helen’s 60 recipes take less than half an hour from pan to plate and most use ingredients available in any supermarket.
Her noodles are served stir fried, pan fried, seasoned with a sauce, floating in a steaming bowl of soup or cold.
The book also is sprinkled with cultural tidbits, such as this aside atop a recipe for “Three Pan-Fried Noodles:”
“Numerology figures prominently in Chinese lore and culture. Lucky numbers abound, with the number eight being very auspicious for the southern Chinese. Four has a negative connotation since the word is a homonym for ‘death,’ so three works out better.”
The cookbook includes advice on tools for the Asian kitchen and a glossary of ingredients, among other informative details.
Chen has suggestions if the cook would like to substitute Italian pasta for Asian noodles.
She does so in the following recipe:
“This is a bold peanut vinaigrette that’s bursting with garlic and ginger flavor. It’s excellent on either Asian noodles or Italian pasta and is a perfect side dish to almost any grilled fish or meat. If using Italian noodles, I prefer the thinner vermicelli.” — Helen Chen
Noodles in Garlic-Ginger Peanut Sauce
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
- ½ lb. Chinese wheat or egg noodles, or vermicelli
- ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
- 4 Tbps. cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
- 2 tsps. sesame oil
- 3 Tbsps. light brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. peeled and finely minced fresh ginger
- 1 tsp. finely minced garlic
- 2 Tbsps. thinly sliced scallions, green part only
In a pot of boiling water, cook the noodles until a little softer than al dente. Drain, rinse in cold water, and set aside to drain again.
In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, ginger, and garlic. Stir until smooth.
Transfer the noodles to a serving bowl. When ready to serve, pour the peanut dressing over the noodles and toss well. Sprinkle scallions on top and serve at room temperature.
Bean thread: Also known as cellophane or glass noodles, these wiry noodles are made from the starch of mung beans.
Chinese egg noodles: Yellow colored and made from wheat flour, egg and water. Available in different widths.
Chinese wheat noodles: Play a large part in the Asian noodle repertoire. Are made from wheat flour, water and salt.
Ramen or instant noodles: A college student’s staple, these egg noodles are pre-cooked and packed in pouches with soup powder.
Rice noodles: Made from rice flour and water and are more delicate than wheat noodles. Tend to overcook easily.
From “Easy Asian Noodles,” by Helen Chen
“It’s easiest to eat the soup noodles with chopsticks, and a porcelain Chinese soup spoon. Stir fried, sauced or cold noodles are usually eaten with a pair of chopsticks, but for those who can’t handle the chopsticks well, a fork is fine. The Japanese eat their soup noodles with loud slurping noises, which is perfectly acceptable table manners. The belief is that while you slurp the noodles are cooled as they are eaten. Chinese tend not to slurp because it’s considered bad table manners.” — Helen Chen