Quick meals with vermicelli noodles

Author: Lisa Featherby
Photography: William Meppem

The less time spent in the kitchen on hot days the better, so have these thin noodles on hand for quick-fix summer dishes.

"Little worms". Sounds better in Italian, doesn't it? But though vermicelli is a well-known shape in the pasta repertoire, it's typically more used in the loan-word sense to describe noodles. The versions we see most commonly here are rice vermicelli (aka bee hoon) made from (yes) rice, bean thread noodles (also cellophane or glass noodles) made with mung bean flour, and sweet potato vermicelli, seen in Korea's japchae. Rice vermicelli is the most readily available. The great thing about vermicelli is that because its strands are so fine, it cooks in no time flat. Just place it in a bowl, cover with boiling water and stand until it's soft - no boiling required. The threads can be long, so it's not a bad idea to break them in half before you cook them for ease of eating. Vermicelli is great stir-fried with curry powders or chilli sauces, and with steamed fish or grilled meats and a fresh, simple dressing, such as nuoc cham. Such quick dishes are great at this time of year - less time in the kitchen on hot days is always a good thing.

Coconut fish curry with noodles
Serves 4
Heat 1 tbsp peanut oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add ½ finely chopped Spanish onion, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, 2 thinly sliced small red chillies and 1 tsp finely grated turmeric and stir until onion is tender (2 minutes). Stir in 6 fresh curry leaves, then add 400ml coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add 2 sea mullet fillets (or another white-flesh fish; about 400gm), cut into 5cm pieces. Bring to a simmer and season to taste with fish sauce and a squeeze of lime. Soak 400gm rice vermicelli in a bowl of boiling water until tender (2-4 minutes), drain, then divide among bowls, top with curry and serve.

Bean thread noodles and spicy minced chicken
Serves 4
Combine 200gm minced chicken, 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine, 2 tbsp soy sauce and a pinch of caster sugar in a bowl. Heat 1 tbsp peanut oil in a wok over high heat, add 3 crushed garlic cloves and sauté until fragrant (20-30 seconds). Add chicken mixture and stir-fry until cooked through (2-4 minutes). Add 250ml chicken stock, 60ml soy sauce, 2 tbsp chilli bean sauce, 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger and 1 tsp crushed Sichuan peppercorns, bring to the boil, then stir in 2 tsp cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp cold water and stir until thickened (1 minute). Keep warm. In a bowl, cover 250gm bean thread vermicelli with boiling water and stand until transparent (1-2 minutes), drain well, stir in sauce, then divide among bowls and serve scattered with thinly sliced spring onion, coarsely chopped coriander and extra ground Sichuan peppercorns to taste.

Vermicelli and prawns in hot and sour soup
Serves 4
Bring 750ml chicken stock to the boil in a saucepan. Add 6 sliced red shallots, 6 crushed garlic cloves, 2 coarsely chopped tomatoes, 2 thickly sliced lemongrass stalks, a couple of handfuls of small Thai green chillies, a handful of torn kaffir lime leaves, 50ml fish sauce, 50ml lime juice and bring back to a simmer, then set aside to infuse (5 minutes). Add 12 peeled uncooked prawns and simmer until cooked (2-3 minutes). Meanwhile, soak 400gm rice vermicelli in a bowl of boiling water until tender (2-4 minutes), drain, then transfer to bowls, ladle soup over and serve topped with fried shallots and torn coriander.

Vietnamese noodle salad (bún cha)
Serves 4
Bring 100ml white vinegar and 100gm caster sugar to the boil in a saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, then pour mixture over 1 julienned carrot in a bowl and set aside to cool. Add 50ml lemon juice, 50ml fish sauce, 1 crushed garlic clove and 2 finely chopped small red chillies. Soak 400gm rice vermicelli in a bowl of boiling water until tender (2-4 minutes), drain, then rinse with cold water, drain well and transfer to bowls. Combine 400gm coarsely minced pork with 1 finely chopped lemongrass stalk and 2 crushed garlic cloves, and season with fish sauce to taste. Shape mixture into golf ball-sized rounds and flatten slightly, brush with vegetable oil, then grill over medium-high heat on a barbecue or in a char-grill pan until cooked through (4-5 minutes). Add meatballs to carrot and vinegar-sugar mixture while still warm, then spoon meatballs, carrots and dressing over noodles. Top with generous handfuls of herbs, such as coriander, shiso, Vietnamese mint and garlic chive batons, scatter with bean sprouts and fried shallots, and serve with lettuce leaves if desired.

Hot tips
+ Rice vermicelli is delicious deep-fried and tossed with a sweet, sticky chilli sauce as a shared dish or appetiser.
+ Break vermicelli into shards to drop into soups or a classic chicken broth to add substance.
+ It also works well as a dessert, broken up, softened and tossed with syrup or sweetened coconut cream, and served with nuts or fruit.
+ Look for packets of vermicelli in bunches for easy portioning.







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