Rice noodles are a staple in Asian cooking. In China, wide rice noodles are cooked, then fried in a hot wok to make tasty chow fun; in Thailand, thin rice vermicelli makes an appearance alongside fried tofu and fresh mint inside cool rice-wrapper rolls; and in Vietnam, bo bun is a snack-time staple: Chilled rice noodles served in a bowl with grated carrot, cucumber, basil, crushed peanuts, and a tangy dressing.
Rice noodles have less fat than their ramen-style counterparts because they’re not fried and there’s no added oil; the ingredients are just rice and water. My favorite way to eat rice noodles is in a simple but tasty soup that’s adaptable to every season. In winter, I might add a bit of golden-fried tofu cubes or rehydrated textured vegetable protein (shown in photo) and lightly steamed broccoli or other cruciferous veggies for a healthy crunch; in spring, asparagus or spinach give color and flavor; in summer, chopped tomatoes and fresh basil lend an Asia-meets-the-Mediterranean flavor; and in the fall, I toss in sliced chanterelles or oyster mushrooms for an earthy, autumnal bouquet.
This fast, simple recipe calls for a basic broth and prepped rice noodles, which just means dried noodles that have been softened for two minutes in hot water, then drained and rinsed under cold water to halt the cooking process. Besides the noodle-slurping bit, the fun part of this dish is figuring out what tasty morsels you’ll toss into your soup pot. I always garnish mine with chopped chiles and a squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavors.
Fast and Fresh Rice Noodle Soup
7 oz. dried vermicelli rice noodles (I’m partial to Wai-Wai brand, found at Asian supermarkets)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white or black pepper
1/4 cup sliced cremini mushrooms, or other fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, basil, or a combination of both
Textured vegetable protein (rehydrated) or fried tofu cubes, optional
Seasonal vegetables (See my ideas for creative combos above!)
Jalapeno pepper, sliced, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish
1. To prep noodles: Place dried noodles in a bowl and cover with 6 cups boiling water. Let sit, covered, 2 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
2. In a saucepan or deep wok, fry onion in oil over medium-high heat until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic, and cook 30 seconds, or until garlic turns golden. Add 6 cups boiling water, and salt and pepper.
3. While broth simmers, slice mushrooms and peppers and chop herbs. Add mushrooms, peppers and herbs to the pot, and your choice seasonal vegetables. Let simmer 1 to 2 minutes more, or until vegetables reach desired tenderness, then remove from heat.
4. To serve, place a generous handful of prepped rice noodles into each bowl, ladle broth on top, and garnish with jalapeno slices and lime wedges.