If I have learned one thing about raising children, it is to feed them noodles. Really, any kind of pasta will do, but noodles are a favorite among kids, who like to slurp things. We Americans, of all ages, have graciously adopted the flavors of Asian cuisines with current tastes running towards noodle bowls.
I love them because they are dinner in a bowl. Parents can sneak all types of barely cooked vegetables in with the noodles and the right seasonings, and palates young and old are happy.
Bowls don’t have to be Asian. I have converted an American “pot,” as I call it, into a “bowl.” The ingredients – chicken, noodles, carrots and lima beans – get a stir-fry twist with only the noodles boiled in a pot. Stir them together and serve in bowls.
Our large Vietnamese population has taught us to eat rice noodles in pho, the wildly popular soup eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and in bowls of rice vermicelli with meat, eggrolls or seafood.
Long and fat udon noodles, made of wheat flour, complement many Japanese dishes as do soba noodles, made with buckwheat flour, which are also delicious in soups.
Chinese favorites are thin egg noodles used in Cantonese dishes such as chow mein, and flat stir-fry egg noodles, both made of wheat flour. Also popular in Chinese cooking are glass or cellophane noodles, made from mung bean starch, which soak up juices in soups and stews and cook in just a few minutes.
A favorite in Korean cooking is sweet potato vermicelli, which are longer and stronger than bean thread vermicelli. Made from the starch of sweet potatoes, they are slippery with a mild yet earthy flavor.
And if you love Thai food, you’ve probably eaten pad Thai, the star of which is rice stick noodles, which are flat dried noodles made from rice flour.
The best way to learn your noodles is to frequent Asian restaurants. The fastest growing numbers of Asian restaurants in New Orleans are Vietnamese. I must admit they are my favorite. I was stricken first on trips to the Saturday 5 a.m. Vietnamese markets in New Orleans East and later addicted on a trip to Vietnam where I ate pho for breakfast every morning.
ASIAN STEAK AND NOODLE BOWL
12 ounces udon noodles*
1 pound thin-sliced tender steak such as New York strip or sirloin, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup baby carrots, cut into 4 strips per carrot
½ red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 cup broccoli florets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger root, peeled and minced
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the noodles for 8 to 10 minutes until just done, drain and rinse with hot water. Return to the empty pot to keep warm.
2. Put oils into a large skillet or wok and bring to high heat. Brown steak on both sides to medium or medium rare. Remove to a plate and cover to keep warm. In the same skillet, stir-fry the carrots, ginger, bell pepper, broccoli and garlic, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar and lime juice. Add the steak and noodles and serve immediately or keep warm until serving. Serve in bowls, topped with cilantro. Serves 4.
*Uncooked udon noodles are available in Asian grocery stores. Other noodles can be used.
A Fresh Addition
Almost any meat, seafood or vegetable can be combined with noodles to make a meal. Beyond chicken, shrimp, steak, broccoli and carrots, try fresh mushrooms, corn, asparagus, kale, bok choy, spinach, edamame, meatballs or pulled pork. Asian grocery stores offer a world of ingredients that can be dropped into a noodle dish in the last stages of cooking including dried seaweed, dried mushrooms and a variety of sauces.