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.


Curry Laksa, and Cooking without Water

Yesterday I cooked without water. Well, not completely without water, but with trickles from the faucet. When the trickles eventually stopped, I used purified stuff from the water cooler in our living room. To rinse food, boil noodles, wash dishes, everything. Trickles.

See, Jacob and I live in a brand new apartment, so new that construction hasn't even stopped. Anyone who has visited Beijing (or China) in the past 10 years will know that the entire city (and country) is over-dosing on construction. In order to clean up the air for the Olympics, the government had mandated that all construction projects stop by June 1. Well, that deadlines has now been pushed back to July 1. And I'm annoyed not only because the air is still dusty, but also because we get periodic electricity and water outages, both announced an unannounced.

According to a notice in the "lobby", the water outage was supposed to occur between 10pm and 6am. Fine, I thought. We go out to a bar at night, come back late, and try not to use the bathroom 'til morning. Then the water stops in the middle of the afternoon. Not very convenient when you're making curry laksa. Laksa paste, bird's eye chilli seeds, and raw shrimp juice are not things you want to leave unwashed from your hands.

Thank goodness for the purified water, though I did feel a small amount of guilt.

There are many kinds of laksas, a noodle dish of Chinese-Malay origin, though the two most commonly known are curry laksa and assam laksa.  Today I was in the mood for a curry laksa, mostly because I had coconut milk on hand and not tamarind juice. (My dish was made with shrimp, but prawns are more common.) I was so happy slurping the noodles that I barely noticed the water coming back on, sputtering spurts, but who am I to complain? It meant that my laksa-infused dishes wouldn't be sitting in the sink until morning.


Curry Laksa

Serves 2

1 small bunch bean sprouts

2 tablespoons peanut oil

5 or 6 tofu puffs, sliced into thirds

1/4 lb of shrimp, cleaned (peeling optional)

1/2 pack rice vermicelli noodles

3/4 cup curry laksa paste

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

Salt to taste

2 bird's eye chillis, thinly sliced

2 lime wedges

In a small pot, blanch bean spouts and set aside. (Save water for cooking vermicelli.)

In a hot wok or large skillet, stir-fry tofu puffs in oil for 1 to 2 minutes. Add shrimp and lightly sauté until cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove tofu puffs and shrimp and set aside.

Add laksa paste and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add coconut milk, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 7 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the pot of water to boil again. Cook rice vermicelli according to package instructions.

Salt laksa curry to taste. Return tofu and shrimp to the wok/pan, cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Divide vermicelli into individual bowls and top with laksa mixture. Garnish with bean sprouts and sliced chillis on top and lime wedge on the side.