Thursday, November 28, 2013

Yum Woon Sen (Chile Lime Glass Noodles)

My first encounter with chile lime noodles was at a vegan food market, where it was framed as a gluten-free, animal byproduct-free meal.  As I ate it, I thought "this would be much better with some animal byproducts in it."  But all of the recipes I found were somewhat bland, Americanized versions of this dish.

Enter the real deal - yum woon sen, which is a Thai salad using mung bean noodles.  You've probably seen these before - they start off pale white, and when you cook them they turn translucent, earning them the name "glass noodles".  They're fairly easy to find, and not to be mixed up with rice vermicelli, which will cook up white, and though they are the same diameter, that's about all they have in common.  Glass noodles are chewy and have a much more neutral flavor, making them perfect for this dish.  And the Thais don't mess around with the whole animal byproduct thing - they thrown in fried, dried shrimp, and often ground pork (which I didn't add here, to try just the standard dried shrimp version).

In addition to getting to buy two new ingredients I had never purchased before, which is always fun, this dish surprised me by how easily it came together.  You don't really cook anything, in the traditional sense.  You basically just soak the noodles in boiling water, then crisp up the dried shrimp and peanuts, and toss everything together.  I was waiting for the stir-fry step the first time I made it, but it never came.  The end result was very healthy and fresh as a result, so now I see why this dish became popular.

Yum Woon Sen (aka Chile Lime Glass Noodles)

  • 5-6 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 2 ounce (dry) bundle mung bean noodles (aka glass noodles, clear noodles)
  • 1/4 cup dried shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fried garlic
  • 1-2 limes
  • 1/2 sliced onion
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 Thai chili pepper
  • 1 cup cut Chinese Celery, or regular celery if you can't find Chinese

If you can't find the Chinese celery above, just use regular celery.  But do at least keep the tops

This single bundle is all you need for the recipe posted here.  Don't get carried away, it will throw off the balance of ingredients

Rinse your vegetables well, and chop them to the right sizes.  They won't end up being cooked, so it has to be bite-sized and ready to go.

Take one of the 2 oz bundles from the noodle pack, and place in a large bowl with boiling hot water for 6 minutes. Strain the noodles and drain, then pour the noodles into a large mixing bowl and cut them with scissors randomly to make the strands easier to serve and eat.  Cut the Chinese celery into 1 ½ inch pieces. Slice onion, top to bottom to get crescent pieces. Chop cilantro and chili peppers.  If making your own, make the fried garlic by placing 6 cloves of garlic in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with 1-2 tbsp neutral oil, then microwave on high for up to 2 minutes, 30 seconds in 30 second increments until nicely browned and fragrant.

If using raw peanuts, fry peanuts in 1 teaspoon of oil over low to medium low heat until light brown and cooked, about 5-7 minutes. Remove peanuts and set aside. Fry the dried shrimp over medium heat until crispy and brown, about a minute, depending on the size of your shrimp. When the shrimp turns whitish, remove from heat and set aside.

Dry-fry the dried shrimp - this was a new one for me.  I found these in the refrigerated section of the Asian grocery store

Make the sauce / dressing - 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 5 tablespoons of lime juice, and 1/2 tsp (or less) of sugar.  It should be more sour than salty; you should also take into account how salty the shrimp are. The role of sugar here is to round the flavors.

Add a tablespoon of fried garlic to the noodles and mix them. Fried garlic gives the noodles flavor. Add 5 tablespoons of the dressing to the noodles and mix well, reserving the last tablespoon to add only as necessary. Add the peanuts, dried shrimp, onion, Chinese celery, chili peppers and cilantro to the noodles. Toss well and taste. You may need more dressing, depending on water content of the noodles and the concentrations of your seasonings.

Toss all ingredients to combine, and you're done!  Minimal cooking necessary

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