Thinking Noodles? Think Asian!

Asian noodles are appearing in more and more grocery stores, but many people don't know how to prepare them.

Since they're not quite the same thing as pasta, they're not in the Italian pasta sections of stores, but you can find them in the "ethnic" or "Asian" sections.

With Asian noodles, you can greatly expand your kitchen repertoire, and prepare some tasty meals to boot!

Asian noodles have a different flavor and texture from Italian pastas. Although some, like Italian pasta, are made from wheat flour, other types are made from rice or mung bean flour. They come in a variety of widths, and can be prepared in many of ways.

In The Early Show's "Five-Minute Cooking School" Thursday, cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie served up recipes using three types of Asian noodles for three different dishes: a Chinese stir-fry, the popular Pad Thai, and a Japanese soup.

She offered her lesson in the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and The Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

CHINESE STIR FRY — EGG NOODLES

This uses the familiar noodle — the egg noodle — made from flour and eggs just like Italian pasta. But this dish is stir-fried. You toss the noodles with some sesame oil so they don't stick together. Unlike traditional pasta dishes, for which you spoon the sauce over the noodles, this stir-fry (and most Asian noodle dishes) calls for mixing the noodles directly into the sauce, then serving all together.

Ritchie uses a wok to make this dish. Although you don't have to use one for any of the three dishes Ritchie discussed Thursday, she finds it's easier to work in a pan with sloping sides.

PAD THAI — RICE NOODLES

This dish is made with dried rice "ribbons": thick, flat noodles called sen lek, made from rice flour and water. Rice noodles tend to have a more delicate flavor than traditional pasta, and are slicker and chewier. You can substitute egg noodles for the rice noodles if you choose.

Rice noodles are sold dried. But, unlike traditional pasta that you boil, these noodles simply need to be soaked in warm water for about 15 minutes.

JAPANESE SOUP — CELLOPHANE NODDLES

This Japanese soup is called Beef Sukiyaki and is made with cellophane noodles, sometimes called glass noodles because they're relatively clear. The noodles are made from mung bean starch and water, and are often found inside spring rolls. These noodles also need to soak in warm water before being used.

Typically, Ritchie finds that cellophane noodles work best in soups. If a recipe calls for cellophane noodles, you really need to use them. Substitutes rarely work.

RECIPES

Chili-Garlic Prawns with Chinese Noodles

A member of the Chinese cabbage family, bok choy has a mild, chardlike flavor and a crunchy texture. This recipe calls for baby bok choy, which is about half the size of regular bok choy and is more tender.

8 oz. dried or 1 lb. fresh chow mein or other
Chinese noodles
1 Tbs. sesame oil
2 Tbs. peanut or canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, both white and light green portions, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 lb. large prawns, peeled and deveined
2 heads baby bok choy, steamed and cut
diagonally into 1/4-inch strips
1 bottle chili garlic wok sauce
1/4 cup water
Thinly sliced green onions for garnish

Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Transfer the noodles to a bowl and toss with the sesame oil. Set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat until very hot. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add the garlic and green onions and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the prawns and cook, stirring constantly, until just opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the bok choy and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 1 minute. Add the chili garlic wok sauce and water, stir to combine and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and toss with tongs until the noodles are hot and well coated with sauce, about 1 minute.

Transfer the noodles to a platter and garnish with thinly sliced green onions. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

For more recipes, to go Page 2.

Pad Thai

This simple home-style noodle dish made with chicken and shrimp is quick and easy to prepare. The right noodle is essential. Look in Asian markets and well-stocked food stores for the flat ribbon-shaped noodle called sen lek in Thai. They are 1/8 inch wide and made with rice flour.

1/2 lb. dried rice ribbon noodles
2 Tbs. vegetable oil, or as needed
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast half, about
1/4 lb., cut into strips 1/8 inch thick
1/4 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup minced shallot or yellow onion
3 Tbs. tomato ketchup or tomato paste
2 Tbs. plus 1 1/2 tsp. Thai fish sauce
2 Tbs. lime juice or rice vinegar
1 Tbs. sugar
1 egg
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
4 Tbs. chicken broth
1/2 lb. mung bean sprouts
6 green onions, including tender green portions,
cut into 2-inch pieces
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges

Place the noodles in a bowl, add warm water to cover and soak until soft and pliable, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a nonstick wok over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the oil. Add the chicken and toss and stir until opaque, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and toss and stir until bright pink, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Return the wok to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil. Add the garlic and shallot and toss and stir until golden, about 1 minute. Increase the heat to high and add the ketchup, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Toss and stir until thickened, about 30 seconds. Crack the egg into the middle of the wok and lightly beat. Cook, without stirring, until set, about 20 seconds. Gently fold the egg into the sauce; tiny egg flecks should peek through the sauce. Add the noodles and red pepper flakes and, using tongs, toss to coat with the sauce. Add the chicken broth, 2 Tbs. at a time, to moisten the stiff noodles, and cook until the noodles begin to cling together and are almost tender, about 3 minutes. Add the bean sprouts, green onions, carrot, chicken-shrimp mixture and half of the peanuts. Toss to combine and cook until the bean sprouts begin to wilt, about 3 minutes.

Divide among individual plates and top with the remaining peanuts and the cilantro. Squeeze the lime wedges over the noodles. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Asian Flavors," by Joyce Jue (Time-Life Books, 1999)

Beef Sukiyaki with Noodles

The meat must be very thinly sliced for this dish. Ask your butcher to slice it with a slicing machine, or put it into the freezer for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour and then slice it yourself. Firming it up in the freezer makes cutting very thin, uniform slices easier.

1/4 cup water
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup sake
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. corn or peanut oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced
1/2 large head napa cabbage, shredded
6 oz. cellophane noodles, soaked in hot water to cover for 15 minutes and drained
1 lb. beef sirloin, very thinly sliced across the grain
2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a bowl, combine the water, soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Set the braising liquid aside.

Heat a wok or large fry pan over high heat until very hot and add the oil. Add the yellow onion and stir-fry just until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the cabbage and stir-fry just until the cabbage wilts and the mushrooms have softened, about 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium, pour the braising liquid over the vegetables and bring to a low simmer. Stir in the noodles and beef and simmer for about 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with the green onions and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Asian," by Farina Wong Kingsley (Oxmoor House, 2007)

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