September 29, 2011 Food Gotta Love Pasta I must’ve been Italian in another life. I could eat noodles of some kind every day of the week if I didn’t think I would blow up like yeast dough. I’ll take them in any shape—ziti, penne, rotini, farfalle (Italian for butterflies, no less), linguini, orzo, and the old tried and true angel hair spaghetti and macaroni. Thinking of them makes me dream of the delicious sauces I can make using them. Most of the pasta dishes I make have meat as an option. This is one way to enjoy pasta and cut calories. Another option is using whole wheat pasta. I love this alternative, but my family turns their noses up if I even mention using it. One day I was having lunch with my husband at Viet Huong, a popular Vietnamese restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama, and I noticed some interesting items on the menu. Rice noodles caught my eye immediately. Noodles of rice? Sounds like Asian cooks have figured out the carb thing. Glass noodles? Now those I gotta try! Imagine a delicious stir-fry with fresh vegetables tossed with clear noodles that contain few carbs. You might think the texture would be off; perhaps the noodles would be crunchy or chewy. But no. They are perfect. This is an aha moment and your mind is dizzy with the possibilities! On my next trip to Huntsville, my plan was to have lunch at my favorite eatery on the way, Charm Thai Restaurant in Madison, Alabama (http://charmthaimadison.com). The very idea of having my favorite dish, Veggie Jay, with glass noodles made me skip breakfast in anticipation. An empty stomach would also allow me to indulge in two delicious appetizers, the Garden Roll and the Vegetarian Roll. The Garden Roll is a fresh vegetable, herb, and tofu mix wrapped in rice paper. Dipped in peanut sauce, each bite is a discovery, a burst of flavor. I chose this appetizer on my first visit after reading the description and deciding that it reminded me of the delicious Vietnamese rolls my friend, Thanh, used to make for me years ago. The Vegetarian Roll is what any other oriental restaurant only aspires to. It is composed of a mix of fresh vegetables and is wrapped and deep fried and served with sweet and sour sauce. It is light, fresh, and never greasy. On this particular trip, I was aware of two things. I knew that my favorite dish is usually served with rice. I also knew that Al, the lady who oversees the entire table area, might not take too kindly to my special request. “Substitute?” Al asked, not sure that she had heard my English correct. “Weggie Jay served with rice.” “I know,” I said. “I want to try something different. I would like my Veggie Jay stir fried with glass noodles.” I could tell that she didn’t exactly want to do it, but she accepted my order. It might have helped that I also told her that Charm Thai is my favorite restaurant and that I tell people about it all the time. Veggie Jay is mixture of fresh vegetables. Add a couple of dollars and you also get a mix of chicken, beef, and shrimp. The flavor of the sauce is just unbeatable. I know, because I have quizzed Al and tried to make it myself. I gather that the meats and vegetables are cooked and then the sauce is reduced. As with Asian food, there is a small amount of fish sauce added to the brew. This last ingredient is one I just can’t add myself because I can actually taste the fish, even with the smallest amount. At Charm Thai, no fish taste is detectable. Al brought the dish out with fanfare. “Glass noodle Weggie Jay!” she pronounced when she set my heaping dish down in front of me. “Oh my!” I exclaimed. “Beautiful!” What I discovered that day was that with glass noodles, the flavors were even stronger because there was no rice soaking up the juices. As I predicted, the texture of the glass noodles was perfect for the dish. Of course, the next time I visited Charm Thai, I had to explain my special request again. This time, as if I had never tested the waters, Al told me that I could change the dish, but I would have to add $1.50 for the glass noodles. Fine, I told her. Whatever it takes. I have to say that Charm Thai Restaurant would not be what it is without charming Al. She is as authentic Thai as the food served! Glass noodles are made of the mungbean. It has been grown in India since ancient times and is still widely grown in Asia, Australia, Africa, and South America. It is in the legume family and is closely related to the cowpea. Most often the beans are served as sprouts, but when they do not meet standards, they are fed to livestock as food because of their high protein count. See http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/mungbean.html. Mungbeans are low in saturated fat and sodium, and very low in cholesterol. Besides being a good source of protein, it is also a good source of thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin, folate, copper and manganese. Sound like mungbeans might be too good to be true? If you consider that like other vegetables, a large portion of the calories in this food comes from sugars, then maybe. Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2333/2#ixzz1ZLm8usR6 I bought several packages of glass noodle vermicelli from Charm Thai’s grocery shelves and tried them with my own stir fry and with Italian marinara sauce. They were delicious! I will post a recipe after I try the glass noodles in chicken soup (inspired by Asian cuisine). For now, I will entice you with my first concoction with glass noodles: Glass Noodle Stir Fry ½ package Glass Noodle Vermicelli Lean sirloin steak, sliced thinly in bite size pieces 1 onion, chopped into bite size pieces 3 fresh carrots julienned Frozen or fresh green beans cut in bite size pieces Fresh mushrooms, sliced Fresh broccoli florets 3 tbsp canola oil 1 can vegetable broth Soy sauce (to taste) Salt & pepper (to taste) Fish Sauce (optional) Stir-fry the sirloin pieces until lightly browned. Remove from skillet or wok, saving any juices. Add onion, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, & broccoli florets. Sauce until crisp tender. Add meat back to mix. Add vegetable broth. Add soy sauce, sparingly, to taste. Add salt & pepper to taste. (Add drops of fish sauce if you are so inclined. Careful, though. Fish sauce can be potent.) Simmer for several minutes, allowing the flavors to reach their peak. Do not overcook so that vegetables are too soft. Meanwhile: Dip glass noodles in a bowl of warm water. Let sit for several minutes until softened. These noodles do not need to be boiled. Doing so turns them to mush if you are not careful! In a large bowl, toss the stir-fry with the glass noodles.