Asian noodles are a low fat yet healthy whole grain alternative to the noodles and pastas we usually use. Asian noodles are making their debut out of the ethnic foods aisle and into mainstream American cuisine, appearing in everything from salads and appetizers to soups and main dishes with names like Ramen, Rice Sticks, Soba, Somen and Udon, Asian noodles offer the same convenience and versatility as their Italian cousins spaghetti and macaroni. And the best news? Asian noodles are naturally low in fat, and rich in grains and other complex carbohydrates.
Types of Asian Noodles
Also known as bead threads and slippery noodles, cellophane noodles are made from the starch of mung beans, which are most familiar to us as sprouts. Cellophane noodles are translucent in their dried form, but once softened in hot water and cooked, they become gelatinous and transparent. Since they have little or no taste and will absorb the flavors of the ingredients that are cooked with, these noodles are prized mainly for their texture. Cellophane noodles are sold in 1.8 ounce and 3.5 ounce packages.
Chinese Wheat-Flour Noodles
Made with wheat flour and water, these are the oldest form of noodles. In northern China, where they originated, and in select restaurants around the world, they are still made by hand with a soft dough, resulting in a silky texture. Wheat-flour noodles are mainly available dried in Asian markets. They vary in thickness and may be round or flat. The thinnest (Amoy style or Chinese somen) are used in refined soups, whereas the thicker varieties stand up to heartier soups and casseroles.
Extra-Thin Rice Vermicelli
Delicate strand of rice noodles are used by all Asian cooks in soups, salads, and stir-fries. The dried noodles are also deep fried once in hot oil, then used as "nests" for stir-fried foods. Known as mi fen (Chinese), bun (Vietnamese), and sen mee (Thai), these noodles usually should be softened in hot water before cooking. The thickness varies slightly depending on the manufacturer.
The brownish buckwheat soba noodles from Japan are becoming more popular as their nutty flavor and nutritional value engage the attention of Western cooks. They are rich in protein and fiber. While they are most commonly served cold with a dipping sauce or hot in soups, soba noodles are extraordinarily versatile and lend themselves to salads to stir-fried dishes as well. Soba may also be flavored with green tea (cha soba), lemon zest or black sesame seeds.
The most delicate Japanese noodles, somen are often distinguished by their elegant packaging. They usually are tied with colorful ribbons in neat bundles. Somen are made from a wheat-flour dough with a little oil. Like soba, they are served cold with a dipping sauce, but they make a delightfully light and delicate garnish for hot soups.
Udon are fat, white slippery noodles, appropriate for robust soups and casseroles. They are made from a wheat flour-and-water dough and may be round, square, or flat. In most recipes, udon noodles are interchangeable with soba noodles and Chinese wheat-flour-and-water noodles.
Did You Know...
- Fish sauce is indispensible to many Southeast Asian cuisines. It's made by placing salted small fish such as anchovies or shrimp in jars or barrels and allowing them to ferment. The resulting liquid is collected, strained and bottled.
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