The Cooking Light guide to transforming plain noodles into exciting, festive one-dish feasts
October 06, 2009
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The International Noodle Bowl
The noodle bowl is the world’s most perfect one-dish meal. Noodles are cheap, nourishing, easy to prepare, and versatile, blending with a multitude of foods and flavors. These recipes showcase some of the tastiest versions we’ve had the pleasure of slurping. Use them as a starting point, then experiment.
Success boils down to three basic elements:
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Japan: Udon Soup with Shrimp
The Noodle: Fat, chewy udon noodles are a mainstay in this basic, soul-warming soup. Search out fresh noodles if you can, but dried work in a pinch. And the noodles are available in a range of sizes―we love the jumbo’s texture.
The Sauce: Dashi, seaweed broth infused with bonito flakes (shaved, dried fish), tastes fresh and of the sea. To rev up the flavor, infuse the broth with fresh ginger, mushrooms, and a sweet-tart combo of salty soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar.
The Extras: Our finishing touches include poached shrimp, dried mushrooms (rehydrated in the broth), and thin slivers of green onions. Any combination will do. In Japan you’ll also often find tempura or tofu in the bowl.
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China: Char Siu Over Sesame Noodles
The Noodle: Long, translucent rice noodles, common in southern China, anchor this Cantonese-style dish. Medium-width rice sticks work well, soaking up the tart, salty sauce and providing a soft, slick contrast to the sliced pork.
The Sauce: A simple dressing that echoes the flavors in the pork―soy, sesame oil, chile paste, garlic, acid, and a little sugar―moistens and flavors the noodles.
The Extras: Chinese barbecued pork hits all the right notes: sweet, sour, spicy, and salty, all at once. And the meat is meltingly tender. Torn fresh cilantro and mint leaves add a dash of color and fresh flavor.
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Malaysia: Spicy Stir-Fried Noodles
The Noodle: Malaysian food is a melting pot of flavors and traditions. Here Chinese lo mein egg noodles star in this spicy stir-fry. Their dramatic length and chunky texture make them perfect for the thick sauce.
The Sauce: Blazing chile paste and sweet bean sauce, a salty-sugary brew of fermented soybeans, mix to render incomparable flavor. The latter is usually available at Asian markets; try hoisin sauce or kecap manis if you can’t find it.
The Extras: Sautéed baby bok choy adds a slight crunch, and its little green leaves perk up the color of this bowl. Drain extra-firm tofu, cut it into chunks, and toss with the noodles to boost protein and cut the heat.
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Italy: Bucatini with Mushrooms
The Noodle: Bucatini (fat, hollow noodles like spaghetti) adds heft to this dish and carries the sauce well. Long fusilli would be another fun noodle option to stand up to the chunky mushroom mixture. Or press fettuccine or pappardelle into service if you can’t find the other pastas.
The Sauce: Think of the porcini soaking liquid as a flavorful broth to use as the foundation for a rich, meaty-tasting sauce. A little sherry adds complexity. Finish with a touch of heavy cream and some of the starchy pasta water.
The Extras: If you have access to wild mushrooms, toss them in. Otherwise, look for an exotic blend and combine with crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano and sage. A final splash of truffle oil takes this over the top.
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The Noodle: Super-thin rice vermicelli soaks up the vivid and tasty curry-tinged sauce. It also provides a textural contrast to the chunky ingredients in this dish.
The Sauce: A raucous assortment of flavors defines the sauce―soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin, and chiles. And fresh, homemade curry powder informs each bite.
The Extras: A savory mixture of roasted green onion pieces, chunks of bacon, and briny-sweet shrimp adds an extra dimension of satisfaction.
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Spain: Fideos with Chorizo and Mussels
The Noodle: A close cousin to paella, this dish uses pasta instead of rice. And similarly, fideo bowls often include fish and shellfish. We chose mussels, but you can toss in other seafood, if you prefer.
The Sauce: Sausage, garlic, tomatoes, and smoked paprika provide the basis for the sauce. Then add tangy wine, broth, and briny liquid from the mussels, and reduce it to intensify the flavors. To finish and enrich the sauce, stir in a touch of cream.
The Extras: Thin, coiled wheat noodles, called fideos, are interchangeable with dried angel hair pasta―use either in this recipe. The distinct toasty flavor of this classic dish comes when you break the noodles into pieces, brown them, then cook in broth.
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Thailand: Rice Noodles with Chicken
The Noodle: Rice noodles are a staple of Thai food and available in a variety of widths. Although seasoned variations exist, we like the plain, wide, flat noodles in stir-fries such as this.
The Sauce: The piquant base comes from the prototypical Thai flavor trinity: soy sauce, fish sauce, and garlicky chile paste. Lime juice cut with sugar adds zing.
The Extras: Toss the soft noodles with chunks of flavorful lime-marinated chicken breast. Then top with thinly sliced lemongrass, raw shallots, and torn basil leaves. Result: ultra- fresh and lively.