Chinese New Year is coming up this weekend — the Year of the Dragon is just upon us. Remembering a few good-luck foods for the holiday can be simple: anything long suffices for promoting “long life.” That includes noodles, which are traditionally served on New Year’s, often pan-fried. Make it as fancy as you want with additional ingredients, or as down-home and cheap as this one. With an assortment of healthy winter vegetables, it’s life-lengthening, in more ways than one.
New Year or not, I have no problem eating a big plate of this any day, and it could be for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s easy to change up depending on what vegetables I have — sometimes, celery sliced in long blades that smack of saltiness and still give a crunch, or red onions tossed around just long enough to bring out their sweetness, but not to wilt. This is the essence of stir-fried vegetables, you see — done right, they should have a firm texture and perhaps a little searing on the edges. They taste like a salad, only with a built-in dressing, and warm.
And I did live off of this dish, and other versions of it, as a frequent go-to dinner during my two years of eating in. It was either this or fried rice, with much the same stuff thrown in. The noodles are much more delicious, though. The way they slip around with those smoking-hot vegetables is fun to slurp up, especially when slicked with fresh ginger-fragranced oil.
Besides the ginger, there’s nothing exotic you’ll need in order to make this. Some soy sauce, and if you like, a splash of hot sauce of whatever type. I like to use flat, wheat noodles about the thickness of linguine, only made with regular flour instead of semolina. It could be a Chinese or Japanese brand, or you could pick something thinner. The thicker noodles are easier to stir-fry in a pan without sticking together, I think.
I’ve also added some shiitake mushrooms to this version — the dried, and reconstituted kind. You could substitute them with fresh mushrooms, or skip them. For me, fried noodles has to have some scrambled egg in it, too. That’s optional, but certainly makes the dish more filling and rich.
My ideal fried noodles have about equal portions of vegetables and other ingredients (such as eggs) to the noodles. It’s amazing how easy this is to accomplish when you have a good head of cabbage on hand. It could be any kind of cabbage, too — Napa cabbage, red cabbage, or the lowly green one I used. In the spring, you could add snow peas or asparagus, but now that it’s winter I’ve got broccoli and carrot for some color and variety instead.
Have all your vegetables chopped up and ready to go. Start with the eggs, and stir them up in the hot pan with your chopsticks to break them up into small bits easily. Remove the eggs, add more oil, and sautee the vegetables until you hear sizzles. Dump in the just-boiled noodles, splash with a minimal amount of soy sauce (Asian noodles do have a lot of salt in them already.) So as not to discolor the scrambled eggs, add them in afterward, and give a final toss.
To a long and healthy life [signal gong]!
Stir-Fried Noodles with Winter Vegetables
(makes 2 portions)
2 bundles Asian noodles, with about the same thickness and flat shape as linguine
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 cup broccoli florets
1 carrot, thinly sliced on a bias
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4-5 shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dried and reconstituted), sliced
small knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced to matchsticks
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Chop all your vegetables and keep them within easy reach. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles, stirring occasionally, until just tender.
Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large, wide chef’s pan or wok. Once hot, pour in the beaten eggs and stir frequently with your chopsticks to scramble (allow some parts to lightly brown). Once just cooked (about 1-2 minutes), transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Heat the remaining oil in the same pan and add the ginger. Once fragrant and beginning to sizzle, add all the vegetables except for the scallions. Season with a small pinch of salt and pepper and stir frequently about 1-2 minutes. Once the noodles are cooked, transfer to the pan and stir to combine. Add a splash of soy sauce and stir to incorporate. Taste and feel free to add more as desired. Return the eggs to the pan and add the scallions for one final toss. Serve immediately.
(for 2 servings)
2 bundles Asian wheat noodles (from a large pack for $5): $0.50
2 eggs (at $5/dozen): $0.83
2 cups fresh green cabbage (at $2/head): $0.35
1 cup broccoli (at $3/bunch): $0.45
1 carrot (at $2/lb): $0.30
4 dried shiitake mushrooms (at $6/large bag): $0.40
2 scallions (at $2/bunch): $0.50
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, salt and pepper: $0.25
Total: $3.58 (wow)
Three brownie points: Another startling wow. This might have hit rock bottom on the brownie point scale if only a whole grain were used instead of refined flour noodles (hmm, fried brown rice version soon?), but long noodles are the whole point of the New Year superstition. In any case, you’ve got cabbage: a superfood of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, fiber, calcium, and my goodness, lots more. Broccoli, another superfood that packs in a good dose of protein; carrots, a Vitamin A specialist, and a small amount of eggs for more protein (and some cholesterol along the way). The proportions are really what make this special — use lots of vegetables, they’re cheap ones here anyway, and let that fill you up more than the carbs.
Seven maple leaves: While this recipe focuses on winter vegetables, which are easy to find from local and organic sources, the noodles and minimal seasonings used here push it back a point or two.