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Taiwanese noodles

My friend, Patty Yang, recently brought me a dish of chow mei fun, or rice stick vermicelli noodles, that she had cooked. It was so delicious I wanted to cook it myself straight away.

Cho mei fun is a popular street food in Taiwan and can be bought freshly made from the many hawker stalls. It usually has pork or chicken and dried prawns as ingredients as well as onions, shiitake mushrooms, celery, cabbage and carrot.

It is a similar dish to fried rice in that it is easy to prepare for a quick and appetising light meal. In Taiwan, chow mei fun would be served with a clear fish ball soup. I like to have it with Chinese tea.

Patty Yang and I worked together to develop today's recipe for a vegetarian and vegan version of the dish. Instead of the usual pork and prawns, I have used Fortune five spice hard tofu available from Asian grocers and have also tried Soyco flavoured tofu from supermarkets. Both are good, but you could marinate some firm tofu to use as an alternative.

You can't skimp on the oil for chow mei fun. Frying the onions, mushrooms and vegetables in the oil makes it fragrant, which adds flavour to the rice noodles and also keeps them moist.

Leftovers reheat really well; just add a dash of water and zap in the microwave. Add a fresh garnish and enjoy.

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You can improvise with the ingredients you have on hand. I like to add baby spinach leaves or shredded snowpeas.

To rehydrate dried shiitake mushrooms, soak them in warm water for 30 to 60 minutes depending on size. Squeeze out the soaking water, strain and save to use as stock. Remove the tough stalks and discard or keep in the freezer for the stock pot. Store rehydrated shiitake in the freezer so they're ready whenever you need them.

TAIWANESE CHOW MEI FUN, OR STIRFRIED RICE STICK

Serves 4

1 x 250g packet rice-stick vermicelli noodles

3 tbsp peanut or other oil

2 eschalots or ½ an onion, sliced

2-4 spring onions, julienned and separated into white and green

1 clove garlic, finely chopped (optional)

4-6 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced (save soaking water)

1 stalk celery, julienned

¼ savoy cabbage, Chinese or other cabbage, shredded (4 generous handfuls)

1-2 carrots, julienned

4 squares of Fortune five-spice tofu or Soyco tofu (Chinese honey soy), julienned

2 tbsp light soy sauce

sea salt and white or black pepper

½ tsp sugar (optional)

1 to 1 ½ cups of shiitake water or vegetable stock

To finish

green part of spring onions

coriander and/or celery heart sprigs, roughly chopped

bean sprouts with the tails removed (optional)

a few garlic chives cut into 2.5cm lengths (optional)

1 red chilli, sliced (optional)

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce or ½ tsp black vinegar

Prepare the ingredients first. To quickly ''julienne'' the carrot and celery I use the coarse grater in the food processor.

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for a few minutes until softened, then drain and set aside.

Heat the wok over medium-high heat and pour in the oil around the edge. Add the eschalots or onion, white spring onion and garlic and stirfry for a few moments. One by one, add the shiitake, celery, cabbage and carrots, then the tofu. Add a little more oil if needed. Season with the soy sauce, salt, pepper and sugar if using.

Push the vegetables to the side of the wok and tip in a generous cup of shiitake water or stock to make a pool in the middle. Bring to the boil, add the noodles into the pool of stock and cook for a few minutes, stirring with tongs or chopsticks until tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Add more stock or water if needed. When the noodles are coated and tender, combine with the vegetables. Turn off the heat, cover and stand for a minute. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Mix through (keep a little back for garnish) the spring onion greens, coriander and/or celery heart leaves and, if using, the beansprouts, chilli or garlic chives. Sprinkle with the Worcestershire sauce or black vinegar if you wish. Garnish and serve with Asian chilli sauce or spicy tomato sauce and soy sauce.

Variation with eggs

Lightly beat two eggs and season. Cook them in hot oil to make a crinkly omelette. Cut into shreds and add to the noodles at the end to heat through. Sprinkle on a few drops of sesame oil.

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au

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