Singapore's sensational noodles

A recipe for an easy way to turn noodles into an entree, while fantasizing about faraway places.

noodles faye 88 (photo credit: )
noodles faye 88
(photo credit: )
Two of my favorite cookbooks are devoted to the subject of Asian pasta and both were written by very good friends of mine. After I read the following in Nina Simonds's book, Asian Noodles, I added Singapore to my short list of places I plan to visit. "Singapore is a haven for lovers of noodles of all kinds, since every ethnic variety is available there. You can eat noodles from dawn to dusk from the thousands of food stalls strewn about the city." This sounds like heaven to a noodle-lover like me! From Linda Burum's book Asian Pasta, I learned the reasons for Singapore's and Malaysia's great culinary variety. "The roots of the cuisine... go back to times before Christ, when Indian and Arab traders vied for power in the Spice Islands... The early Chinese settlers adapted the already present Indian-Arabic aspects of the native food... to please Chinese palates." I had my first taste of Singapore-style noodles 20 years ago, when I visited Hong Kong. When I scanned the creative selection of Southeast Asian, Chinese, French and Italian specialties on the menu of the hotel's restaurant, the Singapore noodles intrigued me the most. They turned out to be a colorful and delicious dish of fine noodles with chicken strips, green and red peppers, bean sprouts and peppery curry seasonings. The next time I encountered a similar dish was at a Malaysian restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, where I flew to tape a Pessah cooking demonstration for public television. Unlike my previous experience, these noodles, which were flavored with coconut milk, were fiery. I found them very tasty but so spicy that after a few spoonfuls, I dared not continue because I knew that doing so would make my face look very red on TV. Several years ago I found another wonderful interpretation of the dish - in Tel Aviv. My sister-in-law, Hedva Cohen, suggested we meet at an Asian restaurant called Giraffe for a family dinner. We all agreed that the best dish was the Malaysian noodles, which featured egg noodles, chicken and bean sprouts in a creamy, slightly spicy peanut sauce and a garnish of cucumber. I have since come across Singapore noodles on quite a few Chinese menus. Sometimes they feature rice noodles, sometimes egg noodles. Generally the noodles are sauteed, then tossed with stir-fried vegetables, including onion and garlic, and often chicken, seafood or strips of omelet. Turmeric or curry spices, a hint of hot pepper and a sprinkling of soy sauce complete the seasoning. Simonds created a vegetarian version of Singapore noodles, made with red onions, sweet red peppers, Chinese cabbage, curry powder, plenty of garlic and fresh ginger. The noodles are moistened with a sauce of chicken broth, soy sauce and a little sugar. Burum makes her version with fresh rice noodles and adds Chinese style barbecued meat, omelet strips, bean sprouts, soy sauce and hot chilies. I find this type of dish is a lively, fairly easy way to turn noodles and vegetables into a tasty entree, which I enjoy while fantasizing about the aromas and flavors of faraway places. SINGAPORE NOODLES WITH CHICKEN This recipe is from my International Chicken Cookbook. You use rice noodles or cooked thin egg noodles to make it, and vary the vegetables according to what you have. Add a sliced leek, thin slices of celery or strips of Chinese cabbage, if you like, along with the sweet peppers. If you don't have bean sprouts, omit them. Instead of chicken, you can add small cubes of firm tofu or flaked cooked fish. To make omelet strips, see the note following the recipe. Add them to the noodles just before serving. 200 gr. thin dried rice noodles, rice sticks or rice vermicelli 2 tsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. ground coriander 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1⁄2 green bell pepper, cut in thin strips 1⁄2 red bell pepper, cut in thin strips Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 2 large garlic cloves, minced 1 or 2 fresh hot peppers, minced 350 gr. chicken breast fillets or thin strips of chicken breasts, patted dry 3⁄4 cup chicken broth 1 tsp. soy sauce (optional) Red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper to taste 1⁄2 cup minced green onions 1 cup bean sprouts Put noodles in a large bowl, cover generously with hot water and soak 10 minutes. Drain well. Mix cumin, coriander and turmeric. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add sweet peppers and saute about 7 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove from skillet. Add 2 tablespoons oil and heat over medium heat. Add garlic, hot peppers, chicken, salt and spice mixture and saute, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until chicken changes color throughout. Remove to a plate. Add broth and soy sauce to skillet, add noodles and cook over medium-high heat about 2 minutes or until broth is absorbed and noodles are tender but slightly firm to bite. Return chicken and peppers to skillet containing noodles and toss lightly over low heat. Add pepper flakes, green onions and bean sprouts; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot. Makes 4 main-course servings. OMELET STRIPS Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Tilt pan to coat it with oil. Beat 2 eggs with salt and pepper to taste. Add egg mixture to hot oil and cook it, loosening sides often with a pancake turner to allow the uncooked egg mixture to flow to edge of pan, for 2 minutes, or until it is set. Slide pancake turner carefully underneath to release omelet. Cut omelet in half with pancake turner. Turn each half omelet over and cook it for 1⁄2 minute longer. Transfer omelet halves carefully to a plate and let them cool to room temperature. Cut each omelet half in half lengthwise, then in crosswise strips about 1⁄2 cm. wide. Faye Levy is the author of Sensational Pasta.