Rice vermicelli (Recipe: bun gao noodle salad)
An updated post from the archives, with a new photo.
My name is Lydia, and I'm a noodle-holic.
You know the drill.
If there's a Noodles Anonymous chapter nearby, please let me know. I need it. I have never, ever, met a noodle I didn't love. I'd like to think I'm picky, like a chocoholic who eschews Hershey bars for cacao with a pedigree. But when it comes to noodles, I'm not picky, and my pantry proves it.
One shelf stocks Italian pasta: rotini, gemelli, cavatappi, spaghetti (much of it low-carb these days). Farfalle and lasagna. Orzo and teeny weeny ditalini. On another shelf, there's a stash of Asian noodles, with exotic names like banh pho, lo mein, banh trang, cellophane noodles (translucent, made from mung beans) and rice vermicelli.
Wait a minute.
Vermicelli — isn't that Italian? What's it doing on the Asian shelf?
Popular in every Asian cuisine, rice vermicelli, a.k.a. rice sticks, a.k.a. mi fen or mee fun in Chinese, sen mee in Thai, maifun in Japanese, bihoon in Tagalog, banh hoi in Vietnamese and bee hoon in Malay, probably originated in China, which has been called the mother cuisine of all Asian cooking.
Product labeling is inconsistent; what's called rice vermicelli comes in a variety of thicknesses, from thread-like to the flattened ribbons resembling fettucini, commonly used in making pad thai. You want to buy the thin noodles, the ones that look like Italian vermicelli (thinner than spaghetti). Shop with your eyes, and read the ingredients on the label (always listed in English, for packaged food sold in the US) to make sure what you're buying is made from rice and water.
Dried rice noodles need a bit of a presoak, in warm tap water for 15-20 minutes. Then, drop the noodles into boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Rinse under cold water, and drain, and you're good to go for mee siam, prawn and coconut laksa, Singapore rice noodles or crab-filled summer rolls.
Bun gao noodle salad (rice noodle salad with chicken)
With the components cooked, shredded and chopped, and stored in the fridge, this main-course salad takes only minutes to assemble, and it's one of my favorite warm-weather meals. You can substitute grilled pork, shrimp, beef or tofu for the chicken. Serves 6.
1-1/2 lb rice vermicelli
Leftover cooked chicken (1 lb for 6 people), or store-bought rotisserie chicken
1 English (seedless) cucumber
3/4 small head of iceberg lettuce, shredded thinly
Handful of spearmint leaves
1/2 lb mung bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
Chopped peanuts (dry roasted, unsalted), for topping -- a few tablespoons
Fill a bowl with hot water. Soak the rice vermicelli for 15 minutes, until flexible. Drain. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the rice vermicelli, and cook for 1 minute. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again.
Add the cooked rice vermicelli to a large bowl. Grate the carrots and cucumber with a box grater (on the side with the largest holes), and add to the noodles. Add the lettuce, bean sprouts and mint leaves. Top with chicken. Toss with nuoc cham or peanut dressing. Top with chopped peanuts and serve. (If assembling the salad ahead, don’t add the dressing until you are ready to serve.)