March 14, 2011

Express Noodles

"There was the smell of warm grass that day, all these years later she could still smell the warm grass." --The South, Colm Toibin
Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me--I am so tired, so tired
Of Passing pleasant places! All my life...
--"Journey," Edna St. Vincent Millay
Ever since I was small, I've had a recurring dream in which I'm lazing about in a field of sunny, warm grass. Between the rain and the cold, the closest I've gotten to a grass-like object of late is, sadly, a scallion.

To me, noodles and scallions go together like bread and butter. My first "real" job was at Panda Express, and the only item I still crave from time to time is their chow mein, which always had plenty of crunchy cabbage sprinkled throughout its perfectly cooked noodles. In the past, whenever I made it at home, the noodles never turned out right — they morphed into horrifically gloppy, unappetizing segments. Quite the travesty. I thought it was because I couldn't get my stove hot enough, but now I know why: I was using the wrong sort of noodles.

But then I discovered fresh lo mein noodles in the refrigerated section of the Asian supermarket. It was an epiphany, akin to realizing that the love of your life has been right under your nose all along. (OK, not quite that dramatic, but still.) It turns out that fresh noodles are much bouncier and more "Q" (a prized texture in Chinese cuisine. I really don't know how to translate it, texturally delicious). Another great thing about them: they cook in only 30–40 seconds! Truly express noodles. Recipe follows.

Chow Mein Express
*serves 3 hungry people
1 package fresh lo mein noodles
3 eggs
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 a head of cabbage, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 scallions, sliced or segmented
10-12 shrimp, cooked until just pink
1/2 bunch spinach, rinsed
2 handfuls of bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
Soy sauce, to taste
Sriracha sauce, to taste

Set a large pot of water on high heat. While you're waiting for that to come to a boil, beat the eggs in a bowl and scramble in a large skillet. Add in the tomato, garlic, cabbage, onion, and scallions and stir.

The water should be boiling by now. Plop in your fresh noodles and break them up a little with a pair of chopsticks. Keeping the stove on high heat, taste test a noodle after about 30 seconds. The noodle should taste done or nearly done. You want it to retain a little bounce, kind of like al dente but bouncy rather than firm. Al bounce? Ha.

Fish out the noodles and drain them. Run cold water over them if you're extra paranoid that you overcooked them. Add a drizzle of sesame oil if desired before transfering them into the skillet with the vegetables. Add the shrimp, spinach, and bean sprouts, and season with soy sauce and sriracha, if you like things spicy. Stir fry the spinach just wilts, and serve immediately.

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