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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tangy, Spicy and Vibrant Indonesian-Inspired Stir Fried Noodles (Mee-Goreng-Inspired)

At times, I have been guilty of over complicating weeknight meals.  I often fail to realize what I've gotten myself into until I'm too far in to turn around.  I've gotten much better at this, and I have developed a great arsenal of quick and flavorful dishes for weeknights or those days when you just don't feel like cooking.  Yes, I have those days, and nothing ever seems to turn out right when they come around.  There are, however, exceptions.  A great stir fry is my exception.  No matter how rough of a night it is and no matter how much I am dying NOT to have to cook, something about stir fries just makes me happy.

This particular stir fry is like joy on a plate.  It's bright, it's colorful, it's nutritious, it's addictively tangy, and it has the perfect spicy kick.  It's just a can't lose kind of meal.  I promise!  This is my own creation that was inspired by a very popular Indonesian stir fry called mee goreng, or stir-fried noodles.  I first tried this at an international food day at UVA years ago.  That dish was so good that it stuck in my brain ever since, and it was many years later before I tried my hand at making it at home.  It's super easy, and you have most of the things right in your pantry.  What's more, if you don't have it, don't sweat it.  No tamarind?  Add more calamondin juice and fresh tomato.  

This is such a great dish for making use of the garden's bounty.  That's actually part of the reason for my making it.  Don't be afraid to switch some things up.  It's a versatile, easy, and delicious dish.  If you're vegetarian or want an even lighter meal, cut the meat and add more veg.  Carnivores, replace the chicken with shrimp or use both.  I've even done this dish with two different types of noodles, rice noodles and sweet potato, but not at the same time of course. The celery sweet potato noodles are great and add to the flavor and gorgeous color of this dish, but the regular clear ones work fine too.  Have fun with it!

Indonesian-Inspired Stir Fried Noodles

1 pack Korean Sweet Potato Noodles (if available, the ones with Celery Extract, which are a gorgeous green!) boiled with a clove of garlic until al dente, strained, and tossed with sesame oil*

Tomato ketchup (maybe around 1 cup or so), add more as needed

About ½ TB or so dark sweet soy

1 tsp tamarind paste (not the watery kind, make your own from the block, if needed)

1 red onion, thinly sliced

Half zucchini, julienned (peel on, no seeds)

1/3 orange bell pepper, julienned

1/3 red bell pepper, julienned

About 1 cup – 1/2 c or so cooked leftover meat (ham, chicken, turkey, or a mix), chopped into thin strips or 1” cubes

3 garlic chives, in 2” slices***

¾ pack frozen calamansi juice, thawed

2 green onions, green parts only, sliced into rounds

Splash of sesame oil

Vegetable oil for stir frying

*Roasted sesame seeds for sprinkling over final dish before serving (optional).
*Another great garnish is fresh cilantro (optional)

Seasoning paste – pound the following into a paste in a mortar and pestle.  In a pinch, food processor.
2 heaping tsp frozen minced lemongrass***

1 slice fresh ginger

2 dried Thai peppers

2 fresh Thai peppers

4 cloves garlic

1 medium ripe tomato, in chunks (Cherry or Roma tomatoes have great flavor for this.)

1. Heat a large wok over high heat.

2. Add 2 -3 TB oil and begin cooking seasoning paste, stirring constantly, until fragrant.

3. Stir in onions and peppers and sautee until translucent.

4. Add in liquid seasoning ingredients—ketchup, dark soy, tamarind, calamansi juice.  Add in carrots and cook a minute or so.

5. Add in meat, zucchini, garlic chives and sautee until zucchini is soften, continue stirring constantly

6. In last minute or two, add in green onions and adjust seasoning.  Drizzle with fresh lime juice or more calamondin juice.

*You can also use the flat rice noodles (called rice stick).  You want the size used in pad Thai, size large.

**Found in frozen section in any Filipino market and in most SE Asian markets.  It’s a sack of ketchup-packet-like juice packets.  This can be subbed with lime or lime and pineapple juice, but you’ll definitely be missing out.

***Available at any Asian market.  The lemongrass may be in the freezer or refrigerator.  It's in a small, plastic container.

Tips for Newbies to Stir Fried Noodles

In terms of procedure, you must always keep ingredients moving in a stir fry because the heat is so high.  Never ever walk away.  Have all ingredients in bowls, chopped, poured, and ready-to-go.  Mix all of the onions and peppers together in a small bowl, all liquids in a small bowl, and keep the seasoning paste together in a small bowl.  Keep the bottles of liquid out and within arm's reach, as you will likely want to adjust to your preference.  Once you get to adding the noodles, use two wooden spatulas to toss gently, moving from the sides and pushing down toward the bottom of the bowl, then pushing up through the center.  Toss gently until noodles are tender.  NEVER use plastic tools with a stir-fry.  The pan is too hot.  Have a pan or heat-safe bowl ready to catch the cooked stir fry because it goes from cooked to over-cooked quickly.  Have a trivet ready as well to move the pan off the burner.  I use a cast iron wok, but if you don't have a wok, get a deep skillet for frying, but not a pot.  You'll get an unevenly-cooked mess with a pot.  You need low sides for good air circulation and movement of ingredients.  Also, do not reduce the oil or you'll have a sticky, burnt mess.  No oil, no movement; no movement = uneven cooking and tons of sticking.  You can add a TB more oil, if needed, but don't reduce.  I reduced the typical amount already, so this recipe is cutting it close on oil as it is.

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