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Black Pepper Noodles with Tofu and Green Onions

Do you have any culinary pet peeves?

I’m not talking about normal pet peeves, of course, since I’m sure everybody has those. In fact, I find that I am accumulating more and more of them as I get older. For example, pronunciations of words beginning with ‘wh-’ as ‘hwh-’ annoy me to no end, perhaps because it reminds me too much of my old high school English teacher, she who also emitted a certain, shall we say, “fragrance” reminiscent of mothballs.

What I’m talking about are cooking-related things that annoy you, mostly techniques that should be so so easy but for whatever reason, has always eluded you. My foremost pet peeve, at least until now, has been the stir-frying of noodles. Being almost as much a lover of noodles as dumplings, the fact that I cannot successfully make stir-fried noodles has been a thorn in my side for years. On top of that, I’m Chinese! Shouldn’t stir-frying skills be part of my DNA?

You see, what I never could figure out is how to stir-fry noodles such that all the extra, non-noodley ingredients get incorporated into the noodles. No matter what I did, all the extra stuff would get pushed off to the sides of the pan and I’m left with a pile of plain noodles in the middle of the pan, forcing me to serve noodles “topped with stuff.”

As it turns out, the solution to this problem is so simple and common-sense that I’m almost embarrassed to tell you. Are you ready for this world-changing technique? It is called… cutting the noodles up before you stir-fry them. That. is. it. (I still cannot believe it took me this long to figure it out, so feel free to mock me in the comments. I deserve it.)

Anyway, I remember reading about black pepper noodles in an old issue of Saveur and that became the inspiration for this dish. I love noodles! I love black pepper! A match made in heaven! But since I had neither rice vermicelli nor Chinese chives in the house, I made do with what I did have lying around, mostly onions, scallions, some chives leftover from scone-making, and half a tub of tofu. Truth be told, I may actually like this version better than the original.

It just goes to show that sometimes, being bad at following directions comes with its own rewards.

Inspired by Saveur’s recipe for black pepper rice vermicelli.

For the meat eaters, chicken would be a great substitute for tofu here. I used dried shrimp roe noodles, which can be found at Asian markets, because I like their texture but also because that’s what I keep around the house. Any type of thin egg noodles would work here as well as rice vermicelli. If you’re using rice vermicelli, follow these instructions to avoid overcooking the noodles. And of course, if you feel the urge, topping with a fried egg is always a smart idea.

enough noodles for one person
vegetable oil
4 oz firm or extra-firm tofu, diced into bite-sized cubes
salt
half a bunch of scallions, chopped, keeping the white and green parts separate
half of a small yellow/white onion, sliced thinly
2-3 Tbsp of chives, chopped (optional)
soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper
fish sauce (optional)
Sriracha hot sauce (optional)

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add in a couple pinches of salt and the noodles. Cook until the noodles are al dente. Drain and rinse the noodles. Using scissors or a knife, cut the long noodle strands into short fragments, about 3-4 inches long. Set aside.

(Tip from a reader Bernadette: You can also break the dry noodles before cooking if you don’t want to deal with cutting floppy noodles. Great idea!)

Meanwhile, heat about 3 Tbsp of oil in a non-stick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add in the tofu cubes, a big pinch of salt, then stir quickly to distribute the salt. Be careful as the tofu will probably cause the oil to splatter in the hot pan. Leave the tofu pieces alone to brown. After a couple of minutes, gently stir to flip the tofu pieces so they can start browning on another side. Do this a few more times to brown the tofu pieces on all sides. Take out the tofu and set aside.

Add a little more oil in the pan if there isn’t much left. Add in the sliced onions and the white parts of the scallions. Saute for a few minutes until the onions are soft. Add in the green parts of the scallions and chives (if using) and saute for just another minute. Add in the noodles, 3 Tbsp of soy sauce, and as much black pepper as you like (I go a little crazy here, in the range of a whole tsp or so, because I love black pepper.) Toss everything around until well-incorporated. Add the tofu and toss again. Taste the noodles and add more soy sauce (or a dash of fish sauce, if using) as needed.

Serve with Sriracha hot sauce on the side.


Yield: enough for dinner for one person
Time: ~15 min

8 Comments

  1. Ben said:
    25 July 2010 at 6:44 am

    That Mee Teow is awesome. Your tip reminds me of eating noodles at a naeng myun house where the waitresses roam around the floor with scissors. Cut? Cut? Cut? They come over and snip away, directly in your bowl.

    • angi said:
      25 July 2010 at 6:08 pm

      Yeah! I’ve had that experience too at this Korean place in Oakland. For some reason, it never really clicked that I could do it at home too! (duh)

  2. Bernadette said:
    26 July 2010 at 5:03 pm

    what a perfect solo meal. I used soba noodles and less pepper. These little meals for one are sometimes better than anything elaborate, because they’re exactly what you want. thanks for posting!~ (i break the noodles when they’re hard to avoid the hilarity of trying to cut floopy noodles).

    • angi said:
      26 July 2010 at 6:50 pm

      Bernadette, What a nice tip about breaking the noodles before cooking – I love it! If it’s ok with you, I’m going to add it to the post as another option to have more manageable noodles. ^_^ Thanks!

  3. Damaris said:
    24 August 2010 at 3:21 am

    I went to a cooking class this weekend where I learned how to make vietnamese spring rolls. I REALLY need to step outside my comfort zone. I love Asian noodles but I’m so scared to make it and mess it up bad. I tried making pad Thai once and it did not work. At all.

    • angi said:
      24 August 2010 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Damaris,
      Actually I think Pad Thai is really difficult too and haven’t had a successful attempt yet. Those rice noodles are sticky! But give these egg noodles a try – they’re a lot easier to handle than the sticky rice noodles. And if you like black pepper, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like these noodles. :) Thanks for reading!

  4. 27 September 2010 at 8:41 pm

    This looks so lovely! I adore tofu :-)

    • angi said:
      27 September 2010 at 9:42 pm

      Thanks Maria! Yay for the tofu fan club! ^_^

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