Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vegetable Glass Noodle Soup

     Healthy Noodle Bowl!
     The first time that I had glass noodles was at a restaurant called Pho in Chinatown, Las Vegas.  Pho is a 24 hour business.  A wide variety of people enjoy healthy Vietnamese noodle dishes and soups any time of day at this place.  The healthy cuisine appealed to late night hospitality industry workers that end a shift at an odd time of day.  

     "Glass Noodles, Clear Noodles or Cellophane Noodles" are phrases that describe how certain kinds of translucent noodles look.  Some types of starch turn translucent when combined with water to make a noodle dough.  The rule of thumb for glass noodles is that if you can see through a cooked clear noodle, then it can be called a glass noodle.

     The bean, kernel or root vegetable that is the source of the starch often is processed in a way that leaves all fibrous matter behind, so only a very fine starchy powder remains after drying.  This fine gluten and fiber free starch flour can be used to make a wide variety of fresh glass noodles.
     Some cooks relish the thought of making all Asian style noodles fresh from scratch.  I have to admit, making fresh noodles is fun!  Sacks of starchy flour that can be used to make glass noodles, like very fine powdered tapioca starch flour, can be found at Asian food markets.  
     There are several different types of manufactured dried glass noodle products.  Some of the most common are bean thread and tapioca thread.  There are varieties of glass noodles that are made with sweet potato starch, corn starch or yam starch.  I used tapioca glass noodle sticks to make today's vegetarian noodle bowl recipe.  These clear noodle sticks were shaped like linguini.  

     If glass noodles are not cooked enough, then they will be very tough and rubbery.  If they are cooked for too much time then they will be mushy and easily break apart.  There can be a wide range of cooking times required to cook glass noodles.  No two glass noodle shapes or brands cook at the same rate.  It is important to keep an eye on the pot, when cooking any style of glass noodle for the first time.
     Depending on the cuisine tradition, the glass noodle cooking style can vary too.  Glass noodles are rarely cooked ahead of time because there is not enough gluten in the noodle flour to prevent the noodles from becoming starchy.
     Some recipes call for soaking or steaming certain kinds of glass noodles.  Simply boiling the glass noodles in a pot is the most often used technique.
     Glass noodles can be boiled, then shocked in ice water, to give the noodles more texture.  For broth noodle bowl recipes, shocking the glass noodles is not always necessary.
     Vegetable Glass Noodle Soup:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     The type Tapioca Cellophane Noodles to look for are shaped like straight dried pasta sticks that are as thick as Italian Linguini.  Not every noodle package is written in English and not every translation has the same meaning.  The package might say Tapioca Thread Noodles or Tapioca Stick Noodles.  Trying to figure out what kind of cellophane noodles that were just purchased is half of the fun of Asian noodle education!
     *The vegetable soup can be made while the noodles are boiling!  Tapioca Stick noodles take about 11 to 12 minutes to cook.  The soup can easily be cooked in the same amount of time if the vegetables are prepare ahead of time.  
     Step 1:  Cook 1 portion of tapioca thread glass noodles in a pot of boiling water over high heat.
     Stir the noodles occasionally.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced ginger.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Briefly sauté till the garlic and ginger becomes fragrant.  (About 10 to 15 seconds)
     Step 3:  Add 2 1/2 cups of vegetable broth.
     Raise the temperature to medium high heat.
     Bring the broth to a gentle boil.
     Step 4:  Add 1/5 cup of each of these vegetables:
     - green bell pepper strips
     - red bell pepper strips
     - thin sliced onion.
     Add 1 or 2 sliced mushrooms.  (shiitake or button cave mushrooms)
     Add 3 or 4 sliced jalapeno pepper rings.
     Add 1 small handful of mung bean sprouts.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of thin soy sauce.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of five spice powder.
     Step 5:  Boil the ingredients for about 1 to 2 minutes, till the vegetables are al dente.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Add 1 thin bias sliced green onion just before serving.

     The soup and noodles should be finished at about the same time.
     Ladle the soup into a large bowl.
     Drain the water off of the cooked glass noodles.
     Mound the hot glass noodles on the center of the soup.
     Serve with fresh sorrel, perilla or basil sprigs on the side.
     This is a yummy chopsticks and spoon soup and the ingredients are not exotic!  A simple soup like today's recipe is good for introducing broth noodle bowls to guests that have never experienced this style of food before, because the ingredients are familiar and not challenging to the senses. 

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