One fun thing about having this blog is that it encourages me to tackle big projects that I might not otherwise undertake—recipes that require research, planning, shopping for strange ingredients. One thing I haven’t really talked about so far is the art of improvising. Having a basic game plan for improvisation is as valuable as 20 great recipes. Perhaps the theme I explore most often is broth, noodle, veggie, protein. But here’s another thing that came out of my kitchen recently. It was late...I was tired, hungry, a tiny bit tipsy. I had no idea what to make and no energy to figure something out.
Earlier that day, my mom had brought over some Korean egg noodles that she wanted me to try, along with some fresh veggies from her garden. Can I just say that having a Chinese mom beats the pants off of belonging to a CSA? I’m sorry to say that I have no idea what these vegetables are. They’re some kind of brassica that grows at the farm where I used to volunteer. They are absolutely delicious. But you don’t need to head to the farm to make this dish. That’s what improvising is all about. All you need are noodles, vegetables, aromatics, protein, and sauce. Now who doesn’t have those things kicking around?
I chopped up all the ingredients I wanted to use, in this case mystery greens, half a yellow onion, fresh shitakes and a few criminis, along with a couple of serranos, because I like things spicy. You could make this with just about any fresh vegetable: celery, bok choy, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, zucchini, you get the picture. If you haven’t gone to the market lately, you could use canned bamboo shoots, canned baby corn, frozen sugar snap peas. For my protein, I used a couple of sausages, but chicken, beef, tofu, or skipping the protein and using only veggies would work too. I had some homemade chili-tamarind paste on hand, which I highly urge you keep around for purposes like this. You could use your favorite bottled stir-fry sauce in a pinch. Or quickly whip up a sauce of minced garlic and ginger, soy sauce, and chili oil. Cook your noodles (per the package instructions), stir fry ingredients with sauce. 15 minutes later, dinner is served.
Quick and Easy Stir-Fried Noodles
2 servings of noodles (ideally thicker noodles to stand up to the sauce)
Two pork sausages
1 teaspoon of canola oil (or more, if cooking a lean protein)
Two large handfuls of chopped veggies
½ yellow onion, sliced finely
4 shitakes and 4 criminis, sliced finely (optional)
2 serranos, sliced finely (optional)
1 scant tablespoon of chili-tamarind paste
1 tablespoon of broth or water (I used homemade duck broth)
Sprinkle of cayenne
Splash (about 1 teaspoon) of fish sauce
Fried shallots (optional)
1.Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boiling.
2. Slice all your veggies into small, evenly-sized pieces. Keeping all the pieces roughly the same size is the fundamental rule of stir frying.
3. When water is boiling, cook noodles (the egg noodles needed about four minutes).
4. My pork sausages had plenty of their own fat, so I only added a touch of oil to the pan to get things going. Then I got my wok super hot and squeezed the meat out of the sausages into the pan, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spatula. Cook until pieces are browned on all sides, about 3 minutes.
5. Toss in all your chopped veggies, onions, mushrooms, serranos (if using) and give it a quick stir in the wok.
6. Add your seasonings: chili-tamarind paste, fish sauce, cayenne, and broth (or water). Mix well, stirring the whole time, for about a minute and a half.
7. Drain noodles and add to the pan. Stir until sauce and noodles are thoroughly incorporated.
8. I topped this with a pinch of fried shallots. You could also chop some cilantro or green onions and scatter those on top.