16 July 2009

Nikki's Noodles

I always took noodles for granted as a child and teenager. My dad made noodles every weekend and sometimes we had noodles a couple of nights during the week as well. Mom even sent noodles in my lunch box once a week. We didn't eat a lot of pasta; but we ate a lot of noodles. I thought everyone ate lots of noodles. When I got to college, kids were slurping down ramen, so that reinforced my idea that noodles were a staple in everyone's diet and that everyone took them for granted.

I was wrong.

J has always made a big deal about noodle meals. I thought I was being a lazy cook (more on that below). He thought I was a noodle genius. J suggested I bring some noodles to a block party last year and people raved. Raved about noodles? Yes, I was genuinely confused. So when my friend Donna asked me to make noodles for her party last week, I was surprised and spent several days trying to find something fancier, less ordinary, to bring. I brought the noodles anyway because I could not for the life of me figure out what else to make. People loved them. People asked for the recipe. I don't really get it.

See, noodles are an everyday kind of food in my family. We make them the same way other families make sandwiches. They're easy. They're quick. You can use whatever leftovers you have in the refrigerator to make them. I call them "refrigerator velcro" because noodles hold all of the bits and pieces and odds and ends in the refrigerator together into a single (hopefully) coherent dish. Noodles are what we make when we don't know what to make for dinner. I've spent years standing next to my dad as he concocted noodle dish after noodle dish. I learned a lot about noodles and sauces and what I liked best. Nowadays, I make a few different noodle dishes depending on my mood and what's in the fridge. They're what I make when I have no idea what else to make.

So I made noodles for Donna's party. I did my usual thing, using my usual sauces, trying to use up the veggies in the fridge before they started to wilt. They weren't anything special to me - just my normal, every day noodle mish-mosh; but they got a reaction.

So, as promised, I am sharing the recipe. Now, this is not the easiest thing in the world for me to do because I don't really work from recipes. I cook with ideas, techniques, ratios, and lots and lots of estimation. I have never measured the ingredients for this recipe. Heck, there aren't even ingredients for this recipe. I just use what I have in the house. So, this is not really a recipe, but a set of guidelines and steps. Trust me, you can't do this wrong. So, here we go.

You'll need to gather up some basic ingredients.

Choose from ramen, spaghetti, linguini, Chinese egg noodles, Vietnamese rice noodles -the thicker ones. All noodle-like substances work although I have not tried this with udon (how could that be bad, though?).

I always have onions and garlic and ginger (although ginger isn't a veg, I get it with my veggies, so it counts for me).
Then there are the other veggies: broccoli, Chinese broccoli, bok choi, Napa cabbage, snow peas, red peppers, mushrooms - I like shiitake -, etc... Depending on how much of each of these I have, I'll use one or two or five. It doesn't really matter. I like a lot of veggies, so I use a lot of veggies. Just cut them into bite sized pieces.

I use vegetarian oyster sauce (you can use real oyster sauce), soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha (chili sauce - yum), rice wine vinegar, and Splenda (you can use sugar or any other sweetener of choice).
The sesame is for earthiness. If you don't want it, don't use it.
The Sriracha is for heat. I like heat. If you don't want it, don't use it.
The vinegar is for zestiness - for zip. If you don't want it, don't use it.
The oyster sauce, soy, and sweetener are all necessary, though, for flavor and texture.

Once you've got the ingredients ready, it's pretty quick and easy going from there.

Start with the base sauce and veggies. Heat up a large skillet. It will need to be big enough to hold all of the noodles and veggies and have room to stir/toss them all together. Saute a sliced onion in some vegetable oil until it softens and starts to turn brown. I actually don't saute my onions, I sweat them which means I add some salt to the saute at the beginning to get the onions to give up their liquid sooner. When the onions are soft and tinged with caramel color, I add sliced garlic (I use 4-8 cloves, depending on their size), grated fresh ginger (about a teaspoon), and the sliced mushrooms and a bit more salt.
If you've got peppers or other veggies that don't like to be boiled, add them in now too. Saute these until the mushrooms are soft but not falling apart.

When the onions and their friends are ready, add about a half cup of oyster sauce, two tablespoons of soy, a tablespoon of sesame oil, Sriracha to taste (I like it hot so I use a lot), a teaspoon or two of rice wine vinegar, and about three Splenda packets (or the equivalent in other sweeteners). [PLEASE NOTE: these measurements are all approximations based on ratios. I don't measure anything. I pour sauce straight from the bottle into the pan. This is why I taste everything and tweak it before I serve it!] Stir this all together with the veggies in the pan. Turn off the fire. TASTE IT! Decide whether you need more saltiness (more soy), more earthiness (more oyster sauce), more heat (more Sriracha), more zing (more vinegar), more nutty-earthiness (more sesame oil), or more sweetness (duh). Add ingredients and TASTE again! The sauce makes the noodles, so get it to your liking!

When the sauce is ready, get the noodles and other veg going. In a large pot of boiling water (I set this to boil while I'm prepping the veggies so that it gets to the boil while I'm making the sauce) toss in your noodles/pasta. Use the directions on the bag/box as a guideline for cooking time. When your noodles are about two minutes away from being fully cooked (I taste them a lot), add the veggies that can take boiling (broccoli, Chinese broccoli, bok choi, Napa cabbage, snow peas) and let them cook for a minute or two. Drain everything, noodles and all, into a colander and shake them until they are pretty dry. We don't want to water down our lovely sauce, do we?

Pour the noodles and the veggies into the sauce and mix/stir/toss everything together. I like to use my trusty kitchen tongs to do this and, be warned, this takes a bit of time. You want to coat everything with the sauce. Do this while the noodles are freshly out of the pot, otherwise they will definitely stick together, which makes tossing impossible. If you find you don't have enough sauce to go around, add more of each of the sauce ingredients and stir-stir-stir. Don't forget to taste again to make sure everything is to your liking.

You can add meats and things to this. We're vegetarian, so I like the veg as is, but I've been known to toss some sliced up soy dogs or other soy meats in with the onions and mushrooms. You can also add previously cooked meats to the sauce to heat them through before you add the noodles.

I often serve this with some thinly sliced omelet on top. That's really easy. Beat some eggs and pour them, into a non-stick skillet that has a light film or spray of vegetable oil. Only pour the thinnest of layers of egg. It's better to make several thin omelets than one thick one for this task. Season the omelet with salt and pepper as it cooks. Let it get lightly browned on both sides before removing it from the pan. Let it cool slightly (while you're cooking up the other thin omelets) then slice them into short, thin strips. I actually cook the egg before I do any of the prep work or other cooking. It gives the eggs time to cool before I slice them. Besides that, I don't have to let the noodles get cold while I cook the eggs. Sprinkle the egg strips over the top of each bowl full. Oh yeah, that's good stuff.

That's it. It's fast. It's easy. It's tasty. It's good. I apologize that I can't give you a hard and fast recipe with exact measures, but that's not the way I cook.

If you make these noodles, let me know how they came out. Tell me what veggies you used. Tell me what noodles you used. Tell me all the cool stuff you think of that I will steal from you and use in my next batch - and there will be a next batch. With noodles, there is always a next batch.


  1. G E N I U S!!!! It is a noodle Friday here (insert happy dance); well more like waddle dance b/c I ate so much!

    I added hard boiled egg crumbs b/c I had them left over instead of omelet slices on top. The egg added an earthy texture and we forgot all about adding meat!

    Also we used white button and portabella mushrooms because the store didn't have any other choices!

    Did I mention G E N I U S?

  2. loved the noodles at Donna's!!!!!

  3. This sounds like a great thing to try, I will have to get busy :-)