Noodles are the sandwich of Asia, the quintessential working lunch and quick weekday supper. Like sandwiches, noodles are versatile, adaptable to any flavours you can find, and, as with bread, there is a huge variety of different kinds of noodles.
Whether they’re slurped noisily through a broth or wrapped carefully around chopsticks (or a fork), noodles are such a useful ingredient. They don’t just add bulk to a meal but lend their own distinctive textures and flavours.
erhaps the most used noodles are egg noodles: they bring substance to a meal and can be easily boiled in just a few minutes. Egg noodles usually come in a similar thickness to spaghetti and are great for adding to a stir-fry or cooking with a sauce.
Rice noodles are even easier to use, needing only a short soaking with boiled water. Made from rice flour and water, they are delicate and soft.
Udon noodles are a type of Japanese noodle that are white and thick, with a lovely bite.
The other type of Japanese noodle is soba – these are thinner than udon and are made from buckwheat flour so they have a slightly pinkish colour and a nutty flavour.
The Vietnamese prawns with rice noodles recipe, overleaf, has a dressing that, as in many south-east Asian dishes, is a balance of sweetness from the sugar, sharpness from the rice vinegar, salty savouriness from the fish sauce and heat from the chilli.
The sesame and peanut noodles, also overleaf, are a little Chinese in flavour. They are served at room temperature with a delicious satay-style sauce made with peanut butter – though other nut butters, particularly cashew nut butter, will also work well.
Finally, I adore the clean, fresh and super-quick Japanese broth, right. The flavours bring me right back to a wonderful trip I experienced in Japan, where soup like this is served in steakhouses all over. Typically, dashi broth would be used – you can buy this, or make one from kombu seaweed and bonito flakes, or you can use a chicken stock.
Japanese chicken and udon noodle broth
You will need:
2 small or 1 medium chicken breast, sliced very thinly
5 tablespoons mirin (see Rachel Recommends)
2cm piece of ginger, bashed with a rolling pin but still in one piece
75g udon noodles (available from supermarkets, Asian food shops or health-food shops)
1L chicken stock
4 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (such as Kikkoman)
150g mangetout, topped and tailed, or 2 small courgettes (12cm long), halved lengthwise, then cut into thin slices at an angle
2 spring onions, sliced thinly at an angle
1 Put the very thinly sliced chicken into a bowl with two tablespoons of the mirin and the bashed ginger, and toss to coat.
2 Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, drop in the udon noodles and stir to prevent them sticking. Bring the water back to the boil and cook the noodles for 6-9 minutes (this will depend on the brand of noodles you’re using) until they are almost tender. Udon noodles should retain a little bit of bite, like al dente pasta. Reserve about half a cupful of the cooking liquid, then drain the noodles in a sieve. If you want to keep the noodles standing for any longer than 3 minutes, you should put them back in the empty saucepan, and add a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid to stop them sticking. If the noodles start sticking at any stage, just add another tablespoon or so of the reserved cooking liquid.
3 When you’re almost ready to serve, divide the noodles between the serving bowls. Pour the chicken stock, the remaining three tablespoons of mirin and the soy sauce into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the marinated thinly sliced chicken and cook it for just 2 minutes.
4 Add the mangetout or courgette slices, whichever you’re using, and continue to cook for one more minute, or until the chicken and vegetables are cooked. Line a sieve with kitchen paper and place it over a large bowl.
5 Strain the chicken and vegetables, then pour the broth into the prepared sieve. Let it filter through slowly; this will ensure a clear and glossy broth. (To speed up this process, I normally use 2 sieves, each one lined with kitchen paper and sitting over a bowl.)
6 To serve, reheat the strained broth with the chicken and vegetables. Taste for seasoning and add another tablespoon of soy sauce if needed. Ladle the broth with the chicken and vegetables over the udon noodles in the bowls, and sprinkle with some sliced spring onions to serve.
Mirin, a sweet rice wine (sake) with a distinctive flavour, is a hugely important ingredient in Japanese cooking. You’ll find it in many supermarkets and in all Asian food shops.
Vietnamese prawns with coriander and rice noodles
For the dressing, you will need:
50ml Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
50ml Japanese rice vinegar
25g caster sugar or more, to taste
1 small chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
You will need:
700g tiger prawns, peeled, scored down the back, deveined, rinsed and patted dry
2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
100g thin rice noodles, softened in boiling water for 5 minutes, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons oil (olive oil, rapeseed oil or sunflower oil)
100g mangetout, cut in half
100g spring onions, sliced thinly at an angle
1 small mango, cut into 1cm dice
75g cashews, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
1 To make the dressing, mix the fish sauce with the rice vinegar, the caster sugar, the finely sliced chilli and the crushed garlic. Taste, and add more caster sugar or fish sauce, if necessary.
2 In a bowl, toss together the prawns with the finely grated ginger and the fish sauce.
3 Arrange the rice noodles on a large serving plate.
4 Place a wok on a high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and, when it is smoking, add the prepared prawns. Stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes until they are just cooked. Add the halved mangetout and the thinly sliced spring onions and cook for 1 more minute, then transfer to the plate on top of the noodles. Sprinkle over the diced mango, the chopped cashew nuts, the chopped fresh coriander and the dressing. Toss together gently and serve either warm or at room temperature.
Rachel’s top tip
When peeling ginger, use the tip of a teaspoon insteader of a peeler – much easier and less waste!
Sesame and peanut noodles
For the sesame peanut sauce, you will need:
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely grated
2 teaspoons peeled and finely grated ginger (see Rachel’s Top Tip)
2 generous tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons brown sugar
You will need:
250g fine egg noodles
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Half a cucumber, sliced
1 red pepper, cut in quarters, then sliced across into very thin strips
2 cooked chicken breasts, cut into very thin strips
3 spring onions, sliced thinly across at an angle
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 To make the sesame peanut sauce, put the crushed or finely grated garlic, whichever you’re using, the finely grated ginger, the peanut butter, the sesame oil, the soy sauce, the rice wine, the water and the brown sugar in a food processor. Blend well until combined.
2 Put the noodles into a saucepan of boiling water, bring the water back to the boil and stir. Place a lid on the saucepan, turn off the heat and leave the noodles to sit in the saucepan for 3 minutes, by which time they should be cooked. Drain the noodles, rinse them with cold water, drain them again, then toss with the toasted sesame oil.
3 Put the noodles in a large bowl with the cucumber slices, the red pepper strips and the chicken strips, and pour in most of the sesame peanut sauce. Toss together and add more sauce if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle on the sliced spring onion.
4 Fry the sesame seeds in a dry pan over a high heat for just 1 minute, then scatter them over the noodles to serve. l