Hi everyone, how are we? All good I hope! Things are getting back to a vague approximation of normal now at Spice Mountain; our shops at Borough Market and Westfield Stratford are both now open as normal, seven days a week at Westfield and Monday-Saturday at Borough. Can I just say that we have all the measures in place for safe shopping at both shops, and that we’d love to see you! You can of course still shop online from the comfort of your own home, and you can follow our pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for information as well.
So, this week’s feature is an A-Z of noodles, and it’s packed with recipe ideas and fun facts about one of my favourite foods – I just love a nice bowl of noodle soup, or a spicy Thai noodle stirfry! Our recipes are all noodle-orientated too; one of them is a Thai Glass Noodle Salad, created by a dear friend of mine, Matthew, who sadly passed away four years ago. He was a real diamond, and this simple but flavour-packed dish really reflects his wonderful personality. Hope you approve, Kiddo!
Okay, I’ll leave you to enjoy the newsletter.. until next time, take care!
Spice of the Week
Furikake is a traditional Japanese condiment, which is also very popular nowadays in Western kitchens. It is based on sesame seeds and seaweed flakes, but can include many other ingredients such as dried fish (which provides saltiness). Spice Mountain’s furikake blend keeps it simple, and suitable for vegetarians, by blending black and white sesame seeds, seaweed flakes and lemon salt to create an invigorating seasoning which can be sprinkled over rice, noodles, vegetables or fish. It has plenty of umami punch due to the seaweed, so can also be used in cooking, to boost the flavour of soups and stocks. And the addition of lemon salt to the mix gives it a nice citrus tang to balance the nuttiness of the sesame and the umami of the seaweed. This blend is heaven sprinkled over a bowl of ramen or udon noodle soup!
This Week's Recipes
This Spanish dish is basically a paella made with vermicelli noodles which are cut into shortish lengths. There are many versions of the dish available in Spain nowadays, but the classic version comes from Valencia and is made with monkfish and big fat prawns, and seasoned with the Spanish star team of saffron and smoked paprika. This is the recipe we are using here, but feel free to use whatever seafood you have handy (monkfish is obviously something of a luxury – any firm fish will do). Fideua vermicelli is not too difficult to find, but you can just use regular wheat vermicelli and break it up into smaller pieces
I don’t know about you but one of the first things to catch my eye on a menu when visiting a Chinese restaurant or takeaway is Singapore Noodles. When they arrive on the table or in the carrier bag, there are never any complaints from fellow diners. And apart from being totally delicious, they are an excellent ‘litmus test’ for whether the restaurant or takeaway is any good! As a dish to be made at home, they are also perfect – easy, a great way to use up leftovers and always satisfying. The ingredients in this recipe are for the classic takeaway version, but the dish can be made with whatever you fancy or have handy really. Just stick with rice noodles and the seasonings given here and you won’t go wrong!
We’re including this dish not only because it’s a noodle newsletter, but also because it’s the ideal place to pay a little tribute to a dear friend of Spice Mountain (and Borough Market generally) who we sadly lost four years ago. Matthew (also known as Kiddo) was the Chef in the then Borough Market ‘local’, the Banana Store, and this Thai style noodle salad is something he would regularly prepare for any party (there were many!) which required a buffet. It reflected his personality; straightforward, but full of fun and zing. And much like the man himself, it was loved by everyone. We’re sure you’ll love it too – make sure it’s on the menu for your next party!
Mein Business - a Noodle A-Z
There are few foods which are more universally popular than noodles; while the first thing that would pop into many people’s minds when noodles are mentioned would probably be Chinese food (or a Bombay Big Boy Pot Noodle!), they are enjoyed in a dazzling range of forms and shapes all over the world. They can be made from wheat (with or without egg), rice, mung beans and even potatoes, they can be fried or they can be soup, they can be eaten hot or cold. There really is a whole world of noodle wonders to explore!
This feature takes you through through the noodle alphabet from A-Z, and we hope you’ll come across a few familiar favourites as well as some delicious new ideas.
A – Ants Climbing A Tree. This is a famous dish from Szechuan province in China, made with rice noodles and minced pork. The name comes from its appearance; the noodles are the branches of the tree, and the little pieces of minced pork the ants. Many Chinese dishes have similarly ‘impressionist’ names, a good example of how food is so intrinsic to Chinese culture. Spices used in this dish include ginger, Facing Heaven chilli and Szechuan peppercorn.
B – Beshbarmak. This is a national dish among the Turkic people of central Asia, and is an integral part of the local culture. The centrepiece of the dish is mutton, and traditionally different cuts would be offered to different people depending on their rank in the family or gathering, the most senior member getting the head! The noodles are made from flour, water, egg and salt, and they are cooked in the meat broth before being mixed with the chopped meat and a sauce featuring onion, ground black pepper and sometimes cumin. Traditionally the dish is served on a big platter from which everybody helps themselves.
C – Chow Mein. Probably the most common form in which noodles are found, particularly in the Western world (and the local takeaway), chow mein simply means ‘fried noodles’. A basic chow mein would be seasoned with five spice powder, ginger, garlic and soy sauce, and further than that can really include anything you like. A veggie chow mein is always a pleasure, and the flavour can be boosted with one of our vegetable powders such as spinach, red bell pepper, tomato or carrot.
D – Dan Dan. One of the most popular noodle treats of all, this dish originated in China and was a streetfood – ‘Dan Dan’ refers to the name of the pole hawkers would carry around, the cooking equipment on one end, the ingredients on the other. It’s a really simple dish, brought to life by the use of Facing Heaven chilli from Szechuan, and also Szechuan peppercorns. Other spices used include cinnamon and star anise. Traditionally it is made with minced pork or occasionally beef, but veggies can substitute those with mushrooms, aubergine or tofu.
E – Egg. One of the most popular forms of noodle, egg, wheat and water make up egg noodles and these are the ones you will find used in restaurants and takeaways under the chow mein label. The egg gives the noodles an attractive colour and an enriched flavour. In dishes using other types of noodle, egg is often used as an added ingredient, either as an omelette which is sliced and mixed in, or just added to the wok in the same way as when making egg fried rice.
F – Fideua. This Spanish dish is basically a paella made with vermicelli noodles which are cut into shortish lengths. There are many versions of the dish available in Spain nowadays, but the classic version comes from Valencia and is made with monkfish and big fat prawns, and seasoned with the Spanish star team of saffron and smoked paprika. An interesting version from further away is the Mexican Fideo Seco (‘seco’ meaning dry). The principle of the dish is the same as the Spanish, but uses Mexican ingredients such as Chipotle en Adobo and a sprinkling of Chilli Lime seasoning.
G – Goreng. The Malaysian/Indonesian world for ‘fried’, which you will probably have seen on menu dishes such as Mee Goreng and Nasi Goreng. It is the mee which concerns us here of course, and the noodles in this tasty fryup are usually the common yellow wheat noodle. They can be made with many ingredients, from chicken to seafood and even sometimes mutton. They are seasoned as with many fried noodles with soy sauce, and apart from garlic, ginger and chilli not much spice is used; however we feel a bit more spice can only improve things, and like to add a sprinkle of Rendang curry powder (containing aromatics like lemon grass and kaffir lime) to lift the dish to new levels.
H – Hokkien Mee. This is name given to a few different noodle dishes in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. A Penang Hokkien mee for example is a soupy dish, with a stock made from shrimp powder and prawn heads. But our favourite is Hokkien char mee, which originated in Kuala Lumpur and is also found in Singapore. Here the thick yellow noodles are braised in thick, dark soy sauce spiced with Five Spice powder, with pork, squid, fish cake and cabbage. Traditionally the dish is cooked over a very hot charcoal fire, and this is what gives the dish its unique smoky aroma and flavour.
I – India. Noodles are eaten in India, especially in the south of the country and its neighbour Sri Lanka. Down south rice vermicelli is known as stringhoppers, and they are made into stirfries or formed into little nests and fried, then served with spicy lentil gravy. You’ll have found vermicelli in your Bombay mix too, where they are known as sev, and sev is also an integral part of the streetfood Bhel Puri, where it is topped with onion, mint and coriander chutney and chaat masala. Vermicelli also often features in the dessert kheer, which we look at elsewhere in this feature.
J – Japchae. This is a popular Korean noodle dish, enjoyed on special occasions, with a sweet and savoury character. Interestingly the noodles are made from potato starch, rather than the usual wheat or rice, and these are often known as cellophane noodles. Japchae can be made with beef or pork, but is just as good as a veggie dish made with carrot, spinach, onion and shiitake or oyster mushrooms. It is seasoned with soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil, and then garnished with toasted sesame seeds and Angel Hair chilli threads. It is served at room temperature or cold, as a side dish.
K – Kheer. An Indian milk-based dessert, kheer is most commonly made with rice but (especially in southern India) is made with vermicelli instead. An ancient dish, it was part of the original Ayurvedic diet. It tends to be very sweet, the sweetness coming from jaggery (unrefined Indian sugar), and is usually spiced with green cardamom and sometimes saffron. Nice additions to a kheer would be Pomegranate Molasses, Mulberry Syrup or one of our infused waters, rose or orange blossom. Almonds or pistachios are common in the dish, but pine nuts make an interesting variation to these.
L – Laksa. Regular readers will be aware of Spice Mountain’s love for laksa, the delicious noodle soup of Malaysia and Singapore. Which type of noodle is used depends on where the laksa is from; rice vermicelli is common, along with rice noodles which are more the shape of spaghetti. There are many different ways to make laksa; some such as Assam laksa are sour in flavour, using tamarind and lime, while others such as our favourite Singapore curry laksa are based on coconut milk and curry powder (our Rendang blend is perfect for this). This type of laksa will also feature shrimp powder, lemon grass, Kaffir lime leaves and plenty of chilli.
M – Miso. The classic Japanese seasoning, miso is usually made with fermented soy beans, although other pulses and grains can be used. It is the basis of many Japanese noodle soups, using either udon or ramen (fat or thin noodles, basically), giving them its characteristic earthy flavour and a good blast of umami. Miso is available in white or red forms, red being fermented for longer so having more of that salty umami flavour than white. A bowl of miso noodle soup with some added greens makes a really healthy, satisfying meal.
N – Well, noodles obviously.
O – Oil, with which noodles are commonly dressed, especially in China. Sesame Oil is often used for its nutty flavour, which goes well with noodles, but especially common is a Chilli Oil infusion. This fiery dressing is easy to make; carefully heat 250ml of sunflower or groundnut oil in a deep saucepan, then add a dozen Facing Heaven chillies and 2tsp of Korean chilli flakes (Gochugaru). Don’t let the oil reach smoking temperature, the heat needs to be moderate as you just want to simmer it, stirring so the chillies infuse, for five minutes. Then simply turn the heat off, and leave to cool.
P – Pho. The national dish of Vietnam, pho is a simple noodle soup of rice noodles with stock, herbs and meat (usually beef, but sometimes chicken). From being a Vietnamese staple it has come to be popular all over the world, as one of those basic but deeply satisfying dishes which are guaranteed to be enjoyed. Our Pho seasoning blend is the perfect start for making your own, and a good pho should always include plenty of fresh herbs such as coriander, sweet basil and mint. Chilli sauce is usually served alongside pho, but a nice touch is to sprinkle the finished dish with either Korean chilli flakes (Gochugaru) or Aleppo pepper.
Q – Quick. Because that’s what noodles are – quick, and usually very easy to prepare. The trick with cooking noodles is, well, not to cook them. As long as you are using a reasonably fine noodle, simply pour just-boiled water over the noodles, loosen them with a fork, and let them soak for a while. How long depends on the noodle, but a really fine one such as rice vermicelli will need three or four minutes, while the wheat or egg noodle for chow mein would need a little longer. When al dente, drain the noodles and run some cold water over them, then use as required in your recipe.
R – Ramen. A Japanese staple, ramen is a noodle soup always made with Chinese wheat noodles. It is seasoned in a few ways; miso is common, as is nori (dried seaweed) or furikake (a blend combining seaweed, sesame and other spices. Curry ramen is popular, and this can be done with our Katsu Curry blend, and another nice way is to add a good shake of Japan’s national spice blend, Shichimi Togarishi. Hard boiled eggs are a common addition, and braised or barbecued pork is very popular (our Char Siu roast pork works very well).
S – Singapore Noodles. A British takeaway favourite, rice noodles fried up with curry, soy sauce and whatever else you have handy. An interesting fact is that Singapore noodles aren’t from Singapore; the dish originated in Hong Kong, and spread around from there via Chinese restaurants. One of those dishes that will always satisfy, the combination of textures and flavours are the secret here; crunchy veg, meaty barbecued pork or chicken and prawns, and the balance of the noodle which should have a nice bite. The best curry powder to use for Singapore noodles is our Everyday curry blend, which is fairly mild but full of colour and fragrance.
T – Thailand. Country which is home to two of the best noodle dishes we have come across. The first of course is Pad Thai, now common in many places and one of the ultimate street foods. Stunning in its simplicity, it uses a particular type of rice noodle which is thin strips, and it is seasoned with sweet soy sauce, Thai chilli, Kaffir lime and lemon grass plus peanuts and plenty of fresh coriander. Available on every street corner in Thailand! Our second stunner is Khao Soi, from the jungles of northern Thailand. This is a noodle soup made with coconut milk and red curry, and can be pretty fiery! It uses egg noodles rather than rice, so is heartier and even more satisfying, and should always star a few fat king prawns.
U – Udon. Another popular Japanese noodle is udon, which is a thick wheat flour noodle similar to fat spaghetti. There are many ways to prepare udon, both as soup or as a stir fry, and some rely on the familiar Japanese ingredients like gomashio, furikake, miso and shichimi togarishi. Udon are often enjoyed cold accompanied by a dashi sauce and wasabi or ginger. The stir fried version would always be cooked with soy sauce and include plenty of garlic, chilli and spring onion
V – Vermicelli. Thin, fine noodles which can be made with rice (as is the case in the Far East) or wheat (in other parts of the world). They are the noodle of choice in so many dishes, from the Spanish fideua to chicken noodle soup to Singapore Noodles, and feature in many of the delights detailed in this feature. They are so simple and easy to prepare, needing only a soak in hot water to reconstitute them. An interesting dish featuring vermicelli is the Middle Eastern Bi Sh’arieh, where it is mixed with rice and butter as a side dish.
W – Wonton Noodles. One of the most satisfying meals of all, wonton noodles can be found anywhere there is a Chinese population. It is strikingly simple, egg noodles in a clear chicken broth with juicy wontons (easily found nowadays frozen in Chinese/Asian supermarkets) with some green veg such as pak choi and a few slices of char siu roast pork. Oh, and ideally with a good sprinkling of chilli flakes. The dish can also come as a stirfry, where the noodles are fried with the pork and the wonton come separately in the broth.
X – Xinjiang. A province in northwest China which is home to a unique noodle, lamein (or laghman). These are made with flour, and are hand-pulled in a fantastic display of technique, the process giving the noodles a unique texture. They tend to be cooked to a softer texture than noodles usually would be, and usually served topped with stir fried meat and vegetables (the meat is often lamb rather than the usual Chinese beef or pork), and seasoned generously with cumin and chilli.
Y – Yaka Mein. Now for a bit of an outlier; Yaka Mein is from New Orleans, and the noodle element is thought to have come with the Chinese who worked on the railways (in the same way chop suey came to California). But the locals have turned this dish into something unique. The main element is braised (pulled) beef in broth, with egg noodles added. The dish is then seasoned with Cajun spice blend and/or a good chilli powder, giving it a unique flavour among noodle dishes. We have a trick up our sleeves here – should you ever make our Slow-cooked barbecue brisket, the leftovers are absolutely ideal for making yaka mein.
Z – Zhajiang Mein. An iconic northern Chinese noodle dish, using the fat white wheat noodles common in the area. It is prepared with minced pork or beef and fermented soybean paste, which can be found in Chinese supermarkets. Rice wine is often added, along with minced ginger and star anise, and it is usually topped with the pickled/preserved vegetables which often pop up in Chinese cuisine. This is a warming, hearty dish and a perfect supper on a chilly Winter’s evening