Saturday, December 1, 2007

improvised noodles

When Matt and I cook together, it tends to be French or Italian-ish fare, because those are the cuisines we're most familiar with, preparation-wise. We don't do much Asian cuisine, because Matt knows very little about preparing it, and my parents, as previously mentioned, were much better at teaching me to eat other people's food. But last night, in a dramatic departure from our usual habits, we attempted to make yakisoba.

When Matt expressed a craving for noodles, the first noodle dish that came to my mind was the yakisoba I had at Wagamama a few months ago. Yakisoba are Japanese stir-fried noodles, and I know the theory of stir-frying well enough that I was willing to attempt them.

Getting the necessary ingredients was the first hurdle. I headed to Super 88 with the aim of finding udon noodles (despite the name, yakisoba are made with udon rather than soba), bean sprouts, and yakisoba sauce. The noodles and the bean sprouts were easy to find; the yakisoba sauce was trickier.

Super 88, it turns out, has an entire aisle devoted to sauces belonging to various Asian cuisines. (And some that don't... why do they sell Kraft Barbecue Sauce?) I couldn't find anything specifically for yakisoba, so I went with the closest thing - some sort of Kikkoman-brand sticky sauce - and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to find out if the sauce would work or not. Somehow, the sauce didn't make it into the shopping bag with the other ingredients, and I didn't realise until it was too late to return to the supermarket.* So we improvised instead.

As I've said, we don't cook much Asian food, so we only had the barest basics to work with: soy sauce, lemon juice (we had no vinegar), and sugar. The results were surprisingly good. The sauce wasn't very sticky, and could have been more salty, but the vegetables in the dish - onions, red bell pepper, and carrot - added plenty of sweetness, and the lemon juice gave it a slightly tangy finish.

I'm afraid our success may have given Matt ideas. Watch this space. There might be more dabbling in Asian cuisine in the near future.

Not-Quite-Yakisoba Stir-Fried Noodles

You can play around with what you add to this dish, depending on the season and what you have lurking in the crisper drawer. The vegetables I've listed are just there to give you a starting point.

(Serves one, with leftovers.)

Ingredient check: one package udon noodles (raw or precooked), one white onion, one red bell pepper, one large carrot, a bunch of scallions, a few handfuls of bean sprouts, and depending on your dietary preferences, either tofu cubes or a piece of chicken (preferably thigh.) If you're trying to make something approaching yakisoba, you'll also want a bottle of yakisoba sauce. If you're improvising the way I did, you'll need soy sauce, brewed vinegar (or lemon juice), sugar (brown or white), and perhaps some honey.

If you're improvising the sauce, get a measuring jug and mix up a quarter cup of soy sauce, a little less than a quarter cup of vinegar or lemon juice, and enough sugar and/or honey to make the mixture somewhat sticky. Taste it. You may need to adjust the ratios a little. It should be salty-sweet and a little tangy.

Slice your onion into rings; cut the rings in half and break them up. Slice the bell pepper into strips, and julienne the carrots. Chop the scallions finely. If you're using chicken, cut it into small chunks. If your noodles are raw, cook them according to the directions on the package. If they're precooked, carry on.

Heat a generous quantity of oil in a wok or a deep pan over high heat. Toss in the onions. As soon as you can smell them, throw in the bell peppers and the carrots. Stir with a spatula or a wooden spoon. When the vegetables have softened, add the scallions, and then the tofu or chicken. Pour over some of the sauce and stir vigorously.

Add the noodles and the rest of the sauce, and stir until everything is well-coated and heated through. Toss in the bean sprouts, and mix them in. Serve immediately. Scallion pancakes are a nice accompaniment.

Note: I add the bean sprouts last because I dislike the soggy texture of fully-cooked bean sprouts. If you prefer them soft, though, throw them in as soon as the tofu or chicken has cooked through.

*I'm embarrassed to say that this isn't the first time that's happened. The people at Whole Foods were very nice about refunding my money the time I forgot an entire chicken.

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