Rice vermicelli (Recipe: faux pho)
NEW-DULL-HALL-IZZUM (noun): an addiction to the consumption of noodles, or the compulsive behavior resulting from noodle dependency (with apologies to dictionaries everywhere).
You won't find case studies about it in any medical journal, and you won't find the cure in the Physician's Desk Reference, but believe me when I tell you that noodleholism is a real problem.
I should know. I'm a noodle-holic.
Noodles are my Achilles' heel, my Lay's potato chips. I cannot pass them by. I cannot eat just one. Egg, wheat, buckwheat, rice, long, square, fresh, dried -- I love them all, and I keep every imaginable shape, size, and type of noodle in my pantry.
Rice vermicelli are among my favorite noodles (though, really, a noodle-holic doesn't play favorites). They're also called rice sticks and, in Sri Lanka, string hoppers. Despite its cross-cultural name, rice vermicelli is not Italian pasta; China and Thailand produce most of the rice noodles available at my Asian grocery store.
The best rice noodles have only two ingredients: rice or rice flour, and water. Rice vermicelli are thin, almost translucent noodles that are similar in look and consistency to cellophane noodles, with which they are often confused. Rice vermicelli are made from rice; cellophane noodles are made from bean starch. Essentially tasteless, rice "verm", as we call it at home, absorbs all of the flavors surrounding it.
Before cooking, soak rice vermicelli in warm (not hot) water for 15-20 minutes, until the noodles are completely pliable. Then cook in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, and you're ready for chicken noodle soup, Singapore curry noodles, fried mee hoon, fresh salad rolls (nime chow), lemongrass chicken, and less traditional chipotle egg rolls. Store opened packages in the pantry in a ziploc plastic bag, almost indefinitely.
Do you have homemade turkey stock from your Thanksgiving turkey? Now's the time to use it. Serves 2 generously; can be multiplied.
1 quart homemade turkey or chicken stock, or store-bought no-sodium broth
Soy sauce, to taste
2 slices fresh ginger root, peeled
1 star anise
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 scallions, cut into two-inch lengths
Black pepper, to taste
6 oz rice vermicelli
6 oz flank steak
1/2 tsp fish sauce (I use this brand)
Several sprigs of fresh spearmint
Several springs of Thai basil
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
Sambal oelek or chili paste with garlic
Combine first 7 ingredients in a sauce pan, and simmer for 30 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, soak the noodles in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Put the flank steak in the freezer for 15 minutes, then remove and slice as thin as possible. Strain the soup, to remove the ginger, spices and scallions, and return the broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, and add the noodles. Cook for two minutes. Add the fish sauce and flank steak, stir, and turn off the heat. Distribute into serving bowls, and serve with a large platter of herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges and sambal oelek, to be added to the soup according to the taste and whim of each diner.