Nifty noodles: My fried mini pak choi with chewy Udon in a slightly sweet and sticky garlic sauce.
There is something very intriguing about many Asian dishes. The simple preparation and the few ingredients being used are contrasted by the rich resulting flavour and its subtle decadency. There is a sweetness to many stir fry dishes I particularly enjoy, a subtle balance of flavours that most cuisines have a hard time bringing together. The saltiness of soy sauce, a slight hint of chilli, a subtle earthy sweetness and the unmistakable aroma of fresh garlic. I like the play of textures, the crunch of fried vegetables and the chewiness of noodles. My fried mini pak choi with chewy Udon in a slightly sweet and sticky garlic sauce has become one of my favourites lately. I’m not going to argue, that is was anything else but inauthentic. But with a dish this fast, succulent and delicious, who is to worry about authenticity?
I have been reluctant to post an Asian-inspired dish, for the past 9 months (isn’t it crazy how time flies by?). First of all, while I like many of the different Asian cuisines, I am grossly unfamiliar with all of them. I lack the insight into the concept of Asian dishes. That this is true becomes evident in the fact that I am talking about the Asian cuisine, as if there was one. A quick check on wikipedia reveals that there are, broadly speaking, six major regions of differing Asian cuisines. That might not sound like much, but as Western Europeans we seem to underestimate the size of these regions. The kitchen of south-east Asia, for example, spans across 9 countries: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. Each of these countries has its own tradition, food culture and local cooking style, that makes each differ slightly from the others. It might be impossible to ever “understand” any single, let alone all of these different ways of thinking and talking about, of preparing and eating food – but I guess the same could be said about any cuisine. I was born and raised in Germany, with grandmothers cooking what could be described as proper German food. Still, if I were to tell anyone about the classic German cuisine I wouldn’t make it any further than: “There is a lot of meat … and potatoes.”
But that doesn’t keep me from cooking. In my opinion there isn’t such a thing as “authentic italian” or “authentic chinese” cuisine. Within each country, region, city, sometimes even within families, recipes and ways of preparing meals differ, each of us brings their own twist to the table. We plate meals in the way we understand food, in the way our palates register differences in molecules and in the way our brains make meaning of the incoming signals. We might not be able to cook an authentic dish, but we are certainly able to find our own authentic cuisine. This week’s dish, is a quick pak choi stir fry with Udon noodles in a slightly sweet and sticky garlic sauce. It is food the way I like it: slightly creamy, with few very subtle flavours and something to chew on. It is rich and has a sense of decadence to it, but at the same time it is rather light. It’s the kind of food you’d like to have for a warming lunch on a slightly colder day.
Before we get to the recipe: What is does your cuisine look like, leave a comment below and share your world of food with us.
My fried mini pak choi with chewy Udon in a slightly sweet and sticky garlic sauce.
Mini pak choi Sesame oil Groundnut oil Light soy sauce Shaoxing Wine Garlic Sugar Corn starch Oystersauce (optional) Chilli Lime (optional) Udon noodles Sesame seeds for decoration
For one person I use about 6 to 8 mini pak choi. If you don’t like pak choi, or can’t get them, use a different kind of green, I have made this with zucchini, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower. In the case of both broccoli and cauliflower you will need to pre-cook your greens, so that they cook through fast and evenly once you add them to the wok. I like garlic a lot, so I add about 1 large clove, vary this to your liking. While I love garlic I loath too much heat to my food, this is why I only use a tiny bit of dried chilli, you can easily spice things up by either using more or by adding some sliced chilli with the garlic to the hot pan. I almost always use pre-made Udon (about 200 g- pre-cooking) for this recipe – they are cheap and fast to cook, if you can’t get a hold of them in your local shops, substitute a nice thick rice-noodle, or any other kind of noodle. You could also make your own – sort of- Udon, like I did here.
- The preparation:Wash and clean the pak choi. Slice the garlic rather finely. In a bowl mix each 6 tablespoons of light soy sauce and water. Mix in 1 to 2 tablespoons of shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon of sugar and about a teaspoon of oystersauce (the oystersauce is optional, I quite like the flavour, but not everyone does). Mix in about half a teaspoon of corn starch, which will help to thicken the sauce slightly. Cook the Udon and cool them under running cold water.
- The frying: Heat up your wok or pan until it is smoking hot (literally, we want it to smoke) – make sure to use an appropriate pan (most non-stick pans wont survive the intense amount of heat we are aiming for). Once the pan is hot, add a few (about 3 to 4, I’d say) tablespoons of ground nut oil (or any other oil that tolerates heat), to this add about a teaspoon of sesame oil. Let the oil heat up and add the pak choi to the pan (carefull it will spit!). Make sure to constantly stir throughout the process. After about 2 minutes, or when the leaves of the pak choi have wilted completely. Add the garlic (and chilli, if you want to use it) and continue stirring. After about a minute, add almost all of the sauce, as well as the chilli flakes( I usually save about 2 tablespoons) and continue stirring. Let the sauce come to a boil and allow it to thicken for about two minutes. Add the Udon to the pan, add the remaining sauce and heat up, while stirring, until the sauce comes to a boil again. Turn of the heat, add a drop or two of lime if you like and transfer to a plate. I love garnishing this dish with sesame seeds.