Stir-Fried Vermicelli with Garlic and Scallions

It's hard for me to choose a favorite noodle, but in terms of cooking convenience, vermicelli rice noodles are hard to beat. You can throw them in a noodle soup, stir-fry them, or dip them in a hot pot. (And I will sooner give up lamb than rice noodles when I hot pot, which is saying ALOT.) Rice vermicelli will cook in no time, perfect if you're in a hurry or just plain lazy.

Called mifen (米粉) in Mandarin and fensi (same characters) in Cantonese, these super-thin rice noodles are almost always sold dry. If you're making other meat and vegetable dishes, you can whip up a very basic stir-fried vermicelli with just onions, scallions, garlic, and ginger. Or if it's a one-dish meal you're after, add some shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork.  

To prep rice vermicelli for cooking, just soak them in cold water for 15 to 25 minutes, or in warmer water for under 10 minutes if you're in a hurry. (Careful not to oversoak.) Once you stir-fry your meats and vegetables, add the sauce and noodles and stir well for a few minutes until they dry up. (The crispy parts that stick to your pan are a bonus.)

Below is a very basic but flavorful recipe for stir-fried vermicelli. Feel free to elaborate!

Oh, I also love dipping stir-fried vermicelli in congee. Odd, yes, but don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

______________________________________

Stir-Fried Vermicelli with Garlic and Scallions

Serves 4

  • 8 ounces dried rice vermicelli noodles
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small piece ginger, minced
  • 1 stalk scallions, cut to 1-inch lengths
  1. Soak the vermicelli in cold water for 15 to 25 minutes, until they are softened. (If you're in a hurry, soak it in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes; the warmer the water, the faster it'll take.) Careful not to soak for too long, or they will be too soggy to stir-fry. With a colander, drain out the excess water.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, water, sugar, and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Heat the cooking oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the onions, garlic, and ginger until fragrant and the onions begin to caramelize, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add half the sauce mixture. Add the vermicelli, then pour in the rest of the sauce. With tongs or a spatula, toss the noodles well until the vegetables and seasonings are mixed through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot.

 

Taro and Pumpkin Tofu Puffs

Before my parents retired, they spent at least 15 years each in the food industry, working for hotel restaurants and Chinese bakeries. Every 12- to 14-hour shift would leave them exhausted, and understandably, my father had little desire to step foot in our own kitchen. My mother, on the other hand, sought refuge in front of our home stove. To the relaxing din of Cantonese soap operas, she would try out the "Western" tricks she learned on the job with our straight-from-Chinatown ingredients.

Most Chinese moms are ardent traditionalists with food. Mine is not. On a whim, she would make pizza with Cantonese sausage, steak with hoisin sauce, and sushi with roast pork. The strangest part is that most of the time, the food tasted very good.

So I didn't hesitate when she wanted me to help her with a new appetizer for Chinese New Year dinner. Rather than a traditional dish, she decided we should try something she "learned from Hong Kong TV."

Most years, our New Year dinner would have some form of taro: claypot chicken and taro, or taro in a version of Buddha's Delight. This year, we used the purplish tuber in taro and pumpkin tofu puffs.

The only fresh ingredients you need are taro, fried tofu puffs (豆泡 doupao), and pumpkin (which you can also substitute with carrots.) First, steam the taro and mash it up like you would a potato. Next, add the seasonings and stuff it into the tofu. The steamed pumpkin gets chopped up into little pieces, then added to the center for color.

After a quick dip in the skillet for a crispy exterior, these become great little hors d'oeuvres for a Chinese New Year dinner, or any other meal that warrants a special appetizer.

_______________________________

Other Chinese appetizers to try:

Chinese Tea Eggs

Turnip Cake (Law bok gow) 

Water Chestnut Cake (Ma tei gow)

Fried Wontons

_______________________________

Taro and Pumpkin Tofu Puffs

Makes 1 dozen

1 pound taro, peeled* 1/2 pound pumpkin 12 pieces fried tofu 1/4 cup water 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons sesame oil 1 teaspoon cornstarch 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. Slice taro into 1/2-inch wide pieces. Slice pumpkin into 1-inch long, 1/2-inch diameter rectangles.

2. To steam, you can use either a vegetable steamer or do it the Chinese way: place a plate on a wire rack in a wok with about 2 inches of boiling water. Steam pumpkin until tender, about 2 minutes, then remove. Steam taro until fully cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes, then remove.

3. With a potato masher or a rubber spatula, break taro into smaller pieces. Mix in water, peanut/veg oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, sugar, salt, and pepper. Continue to mash until taro is smooth. Adjust flavor if needed with additional salt and pepper.

4. Slice off 1 side (just a sliver) of each tofu puff. With your fingers, gently push the inner tofu to the sides. Spoon and pack taro into the tofu. With the blunt end of a chopstick, lightly press a hole in the center (but careful not to poke through to the other side.) Press a pumpkin piece into each hole, then smooth out the top.

5. You can eat the tofu puffs as is, or you can pan-fry them (the top only or all 4 sides) for some extra crispness. Taro and pumpkin tofu puffs can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

*When working with unshaven taro in China, I have found it's best to wear gloves; the outside has a tendency to cause itchiness (though not a rash.) I haven't had this problem with taro in the US.