Wok-fried rice noodles are something that I make almost weekly. The dish doesn’t require much list work — I might grab a package of tofu at the grocery, whatever is in season at the Farmers’ Market. Or I could use the vegetables in my refrigerator — a bit of cauliflower, a carrot or two, 1/4 of a head of Chinese cabbage.
I am crazy about the fresh rice noodles that some Asian markets carry — their texture is luscious and they soak up the flavors of the other ingredients — but I typically use dried rice noodles because they are shelf stable. The dried rice noodles are sometimes labeled “rice stick,” with widths denoted on the package as S (small), M (medium) and L (large). I use all three sizes, with my choice depending on my mood and the vegetables on hand.
A Method for Wok-Fried Rice Noodles Evolves
For a long time I would cook the vegetables first, then add the noodles, and finally the sauce. The idea was to keep the pan moderately dry so the noodles could be cooked over very high heat and be seared a bit. Or I would try to cook the noodles by themselves in the wok over very high heat, add a bit of soy sauce, garlic and ginger at the end, then put the noodles in a warm oven while I cooked the vegetables. This “noodles first” method works well with fresh rice noodles, but not with dry noodles.
Recently I have been trying a new strategy based on Pim’s ultra-comprehensive post on pad Thai. This strategy cooks the noodles with the sauce. But first I cook the vegetables. When the vegetables are just about ready, I splash a little sauce and transfer them to a bowl. Then I take the wok off the heat and carefully wipe the moisture from it (if there is any left). I return the wok to the burner (on high heat), add some oil, wait for the oil to heat up, then put in the noodles. After turning the noodles a few times, I add the sauce. I keep stirring to prevent sticking and allow even cooking. When the noodles are cooked, I might put in a beaten egg or two, let that cook, and then return the vegetables to the wok. A few turns to heat up everything and it’s ready to serve.
Recipe: Rice Noodles with Vegetables
8 oz. dried rice noodles (any size will work)
Soak the noodles in hot water for 30 minutes, then drain, rinse in cool water, and drain again.
The Vegetables and etc.
Prepare about 2 cups total, using the list below as a guide. Group the vegetables in bowls according to how long they take to cook or when they will be added to the wok (e.g., group 1: onions, shallots, garlic, ginger; group 2: carrots, broccoli stems, long beans; group 3: cabbage, mushrooms)
Cauliflower, chopped into florets
Broccoli, chopped into florets, stems peeled and chopped
Long beans or green beans, cut in 1 inch lengths
Carrots, halved or quartered, then in 1 inch pieces
Shiitake mushrooms, fresh if possible or dry ones soaked in hot water until soft then drained
White mushrooms, sliced or cut in odd shapes
Cabbage, green or napa, sliced thin
Shallots, chopped fine
Onion, chopped fine
Garlic, chopped fine
Ginger, grated or chopped fine
Fresh chilies, deseeded and chopped fine
8 oz. deep fried tofu, cut into bite-size pieces
Roasted peanuts, chopped
Fresh tomatoes cut in quarters or eighths
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
A few tablespoons soy sauce
A few tablespoons water
A few teaspoons sugar (palm sugar is ideal)
Heat some oil in a wok over high heat. Just before the oil is smoking, add the first batch of vegetables (onion, shallots, garlic, ginger). Stir fry briefly, then add the next batch of vegetables (carrot, broccoli stems, cauliflower). Continue adding the vegetables in stages until they are all in the wok. Add about one-quarter of the sauce and stir a few times. Transfer to a metal or glass bowl.
Off the heat, carefully remove moisture and cooked bits from the wok. Return it to the heat (on high setting) and add some oil. Put the drained rice noodles in the wok, stir a few times, then pour in the sauce. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the noodles are fully cooked (you’ll have to pull out a piece and try it to know).
If using eggs, push the noodles to one side of the wok, then pour in the eggs. Jostle the egg gently until it sets (you might need to turn down the heat slightly for this part), then mix it together with the noodles. Return the vegetables to the wok, then cook everything for a few minutes more, until the vegetables are hot.
Add 1 T. curry powder to the sauce
Add some mild red chili powder (e.g., ancho, pasilla)
Add a few tablespoons of chopped herbs at the end (e.g., Thai basil, cilantro, laksa leaf)
Use Pim’s pad Thai sauce (palm sugar, soy sauce, and tamarind juice)
Replace tofu with tempeh, seitan, or TVP