Midori's cooking was far better than I had imagined it would be, an amazing assortment of fried, pickled, boiled, and roasted dishes using eggs, mackerel, fresh greens, eggplant, mushrooms, radishes, and sesame seeds, all done in the delicate Kyoto style."This is great,' I said with my mouth full.'O.K., tell me the truth now,' Midori said. 'You weren't expecting my cooking to be very good, were you—judging from my looks.''I guess not,' I said honestly.—Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
Doesn't that meal sound amazing? I would love to have Midori cook for me every day. But this passage also brings up another important consideration: Do we judge cooks by their looks? And should we?
We've all heard the saying, "Never trust a skinny chef." But my parents aren't hefty people, and they're two of the best chefs I know. So no, I do not judge a cook by his or her BMI. Instead, I take note of the way they talk about food. Do their eyes light up? Do they get breathless and start talking in run-on sentences about their favorite type of doughnut? Do they carefully lift strawberries to their noses in order to sniff out the best box?
These things, I think, are good indications that someone is a good chef.
Wood ear mushrooms! And indeed, they do look like trees' ears, if trees had ears. A package of these dried fungi will last you for ages. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is with noodles...specifically, bean thread noodles (also known as glass noodles, made from mung bean). Besides their soft, delicious texture, what's cool about these noodles is that they're gluten-free.
Available for purchase in Asian grocery stores and at Whole Foods, all you have to do to prepare cellophane noodles is soak them in water for about 30 minutes before stir-frying. You also need to soak the wood ear mushrooms before cooking them.
My parents always stir-fry this kind of noodle with shredded cabbage, and sometimes shrimp or some other protein. This recipe is infinitely adaptable to your tastes. I happened to make mine with wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage and scallions because that's what I had on hand at the time.
Improvise, and enjoy!
Norwegian Wood-Inspired Wood Ear & Cellophane Noodles
handful of wood ear mushrooms
handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
3 bundles of dried cellophane noodles
1/2 head of cabbage
1 clove garlic
sesame oil and soy sauce
pinch of sugar
a small spoonful of chili sauce
Soak the wood ear mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms in a large bowl of warm water, so they are submerged, until soft (approx. 30 min). In a separate bowl, soak the noodles in warm water as well (should also take about 30 min.).
Meanwhile, slice the cabbage and scallions, and mince the garlic.
Heat a large wok and drizzle with oil. Add in the cabbage and garlic and cook until wilted, approx. 15 min.
Drain the mushrooms and slice them into bite-sized pieces. Add them into the pan with the cabbage.
Stir and continue to cook over medium-high heat. Drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce. Add a pinch of sugar along with the hot sauce.
Drain the noodles and cut them into approx. 6" length strands (I just made a few rough cuts, no need to be too precise). Add them to the wok and stir fry until soft, another 20-30 minutes.
Taste and add more soy sauce as needed. Throw in the scallions in the final few minutes. Serve immediately (with more hot sauce, if desired).