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All About Asian Noodles

The wide variety of noodles used in Asian cooking can be confusing. Use this guide to become familiar with a few popular types.

Asian noodles are used in all types of dishes because of the wide variety and their availability. They are made from ingredients such as buckwheat flour and mung beans. They're perfect for "one-bowl" meals or for large gatherings. Entire books have been written about Asian noodles and recipes abound, both in cookbooks and on-line.

Asian cooks typically cook their noodles until well-done - they're soft rather than al dente. Some of the thinner varieties can be deep-fired for a bird's nest treat that is tasty and decorative.

Asian Noodle List

Cellophane Noodles
Also called glass noodles, Chinese vermicelli, slippery noodles, and bean threads. They are clear and when cooked become gelatinous. Mung bean starch is used to make these noodles. They are used more for texture than for flavor and are great for soups as they absorb the flavors of other foods.

If you find these in an Asian market, there may be no directions or they may not be in English. The noodles should soak in hot water for no more than 15 minutes. In a separate pot, bring water to a boil, add the noodles, and turn off heat. Pay attention as they can turn glassy in a hurry - even a few seconds. Once they are soft, drain and rinse in cold water or they will become gummy. They can also be added to a stir-fry. A 2-ounce package yields approximately 24 ounces of cooked noodles.

Chinese Egg Noodles
So similar to Italian pasta that if you can't find a good quality, use pasta instead. Cold noodle dishes use Chinese egg noodles. Do not overboil as they will turn to mush. They are similar to the American version of egg noodles, but those sold in Asian markets may not contain any egg product.

Wheat-Flour Noodles
Also called lo mein, you'll find these in several varieties at Asian markets. Boil or stir-fry according to package directions and use in soups and stews or in stir-fries. Linguini is a good substitute.

Ramen Noodles
These are the variety included in quick-cook lunch bowls found on supermarket shelves. They're curly Japanese noodles and come in a variety of flavors. Vermicelli or soba noodles can be substituted. As an alternative trip to an Asian market, purchase the inexpensive soups and use only the noodles.

Rice Noodles
Also called rice sticks or rice vermicelli. Become clear when cooked and are somewhat like bean threads. The thin varieties should be soaked in hot water to soften before cooking, then boil or stir-fry for less than a minute. They work best in light soups and are great in salads. Medium and thick, flat noodles require a longer cooking time; they can be added to stir-fries and soups.

Rice Papers
Made from rice flour. They are dried on bamboo mats, which is where they acquire the weave-looking surface. Used as wrappers, they should be soaked before filling.

Soba Noodles
Also called buckwheat noodles. Thin and grayish Japanese noodles; should be cooked like spaghetti. They are, by tradition, served cold. They are said to have a nutty flavor and more healthful than most noodles.

Udon Noodles
Also called white noodles. They are Japanese in origin and made from wheat flour. Chewy and thick, they can be served cold or add to soups. Cooking times are about the same linguini, which is also a good substitute.



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