Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chinese New Years

One of my favorite festivals in Chicago is Chinese New Years. We went a day early to celebrate the year of the tiger.

Later in the day, I made my favorite cold noodle salad at home. This dish is so delicious because you combine the lettuce, vegetables and noodles and top with a variety of meats. This is my ALL TIME FAVORITE SALAD recipe!

I found this recipe in the June/July 1998 issue of Fine Cooking. In this recipe, you use the Vietnamese noodle Bun, which is a vermicelli-style noodle. Made from rice flour, water and salt, these noodles are a beloved staple in Vietnam.

Traditionally, this dish is served with noodles at room temperature with cool garnishes and warm toppings. This is a perfect example of fresh and spirited Vietnamese cuisine. Always remember to select the freshest and crispest lettuce and herbs for the salad.

With the master recipe for the salad, you can create different flavors just by changing the toppings, the greens or the herbs. I know this recipe looks complicated. It is not. Make it in steps and you'll find it to be fairly easy!

For the Greens:

2 cups washed shredded romaine, red or green leaf lettuce

2 cups bean sprouts (optional)

1 ½ cups cucumbers, peeled and julienned or whole

½ cup small whole mint leaves

½ cup roughly thai basil leaves

For the Garnishes:

2 Tbsp chopped roasted peanuts

Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce)

12 sprigs cilantro

Sliced carrots or Daikon

Nuoc Cham:

1 clove garlic

2 to 3 Thai bird chiles (or 1 small jalapeño or serrano chile), cored, seeded, and minced; more or less to taste

1/2 tsp. ground chile paste; more or less to taste

2/3 cup hot water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup fish sauce

2 Tbs. fresh lime juice

2 Tbs. shredded carrots (optional)

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and fresh chiles to a paste. (Or mince them together with a knife.) In a small bowl, combine this garlic and chile mixture with the chile paste, hot water, and sugar. Stir well. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and combine. Float the carrots on top. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before using.

For the noodles:

8 oz. dried rice vermicelli

For the topping:

Use one of these four - Mongolian Beef, Caramelized Pork, Lemongrass Shrimp or Vegetables.

Caramelized Pork: (this is my favorite)

For the caramel:

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

For the pork:

2 large shallots, sliced, or 5 scallions (white parts only), chopped

2 tsp. fish sauce

2 tsp. soy sauce

Pinch salt

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

1-1/2 lb. pork loin or sirloin, sliced into large pieces about 1/4-inch thick

To make the caramel: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir a few times and allow to simmer until the sauce turns deep brown, about 15 min. Meanwhile, have some extra hot water ready on a back burner. Once the sauce reaches the desired color, carefully add 4 to 5 Tbs. hot water to slow the cooking and thin the sauce. (Be sure to hold the pan away from you so that none of the hot caramel splatters on you when you add the water.) If necessary, add more hot water. The sauce should only be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.

To make the pork: Pound the shallots in a mortar and pestle or mince by hand. Transfer the shallots to a mixing bowl and combine with the fish sauce, soy sauce, salt, vegetable oil, and cooled caramel sauce. Stir well to blend. Add the pork slices and let marinate for 20 min. Meanwhile, heat a broiler or light a charcoal or gas grill. When the broiler or fire is very hot, cook the pork until just done, about 2 min. on each side. Let the pork rest for 10 to 15 min., cut into thin strips, and serve on bun.

Lemongrass Shrimp:

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 Tbs. minced fresh lemongrass

2 cups sliced white mushrooms

2 tsp. fish sauce

1 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, quickly stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and lemongrass; stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with the fish sauce, sugar, and a little salt. Stir-fry until the shrimp is cooked and the mushrooms are wilted, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm on cold noodle salad.


For the tofu (or use chicken):

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

8 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into rectangular strips about 1-inch wide

For the vegetables:

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

6 dried black mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 min., drained, stemmed, and thinly sliced

2 cups broccoli florets (cut through their stems into thin slices), blanched in boiling water and drained

1-1/2 cups shredded green or Napa cabbage

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced bok choy

2 Tbs. soy sauce; more or less to taste

1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

To cook the tofu or chicken: Heat the oil in a nonstick pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu pieces and stir-fry until nicely browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. When cool, cut them into bite-size strips. Set aside.

To cook the vegetables: Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. If the pan is smaller than 12 inches, cook the vegetables in two batches. Wait until the oil gets very hot, almost smoking (the vegetables should sizzle during the entire cooking time), and add the shallots, constantly stirring until they become fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry for another 20 seconds. Add the broccoli, cabbage, and bok choy, stir for 30 seconds, and add the red bell pepper. (If the pan gets too dry, sprinkle in 1 to 2 Tbs. water.)

Working quickly, create an open space in the middle of the pan by pushing the vegetables against the edges. Add the soy sauce to the open area. It should sizzle and caramelize slightly, creating a distinctive aroma. Stir the vegetables with the soy sauce a few times and remove from the heat.

Toss the vegetables with the tofu or chicken and top the noodle salad.

Mongolian Beef: (this is what I made today)


2 tsp vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. minced ginger

1 tbsp. chopped garlic

1/2 c. soy sauce

1/2 c. water

3/4 c. dark brown sugar


1/2 c. vegetable oil (I would use less oil)

1 pound flank steak

1/4 c. cornstarch

1 large green onions

Make the sauce by heating 2 tsp. vegetable oil in med saucepan over med/low heat. Don't get the oil too hot or you'll get a major splatter when adding liquids.

Add ginger and garlic to the pan and quickly add the soy sauce and water before the garlic scorches.

Dissolve the brown sugar in the saute, then raise the heat to med and boil the sauce for 2-3 min. or until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.

Slice the flank steak against the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices. Tilt the blade of you knife at about a 45 deg angle to the top of the steak so that you get wider cuts.

Dip the steak pieces into the cornstarch to apply a very thin dusting to both sides of each piece. Let the beef sit for about 10 min. so that the cornstarch sticks.

As the beef sits, heat up one cup of oil in a wok or skillet. Add the beef to the oil and saute for just 2 min. or until the beef just begins to darken on the edges. Stir the meat around a little so that it cooks evenly. After a couple minutes, use a large slotted spoon to take the meat out onto paper towels, then pour the oil out of the wok.

Put the pan back over the heat, dump the meat back into it and simmer for one minute.

Add the sauce, cook for one min while stirring, then add all the green onions.

Cook for 1 more minute, then remove the beef and onions with slotted spoon to serving plate. Leave excess sauce behind in the pan.

Bon Appetit!