This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie is a bit of Asian fusion, sort of. Dorie says she was first served this dish, Shrimp and Cellophane Noodles, by her friend Hélène Samuel as part of a dinner of orange food. Interesting… I’ve been wondering which part of the dish is considered orange. The coral of the cooked shrimp or the red of the tomato puree. I’m not sure.
Ingredients for this dish spawned a trip to HMart, a gigantic nearby Korean supermarket with a usually large selection of Asian ingredients. Though they have more choices of kimchis and marinated meats for Korean BBQ than I’ve seen anywhere else, their inventory usually includes what’s needed for most Asian cuisines. For some reason, this trip, I was surprised that there was only one choice for tree ear mushrooms and one choice for cellophane noodles. On the bright side, half of the back wall of the store is a fresh fish counter, so I could pick up shrimp and make it a one-stop shop.
To be fair, this recipe should have been named Shrimp, MUSHROOM, and Cellophane Noodles. The dried tree ear mushrooms, once rehydrated, were the main ingredient. I couldn’t believe how much the mushrooms, well, mushroomed. The little one ounce pack grew to fill a medium sized bowl with gigantic tree ears. I debated using only half of the mushrooms, once shredded, but ended up using it all.
Also, I didn’t understand why the rehydrated noodles were doused in sesame oil and then, shortly before assembling the dish, cooked ever so briefly in the pot of water which simply washed the oil off. I added more sesame oil afterwards, but I wasn’t sure about the purpose this step. Anyone have a clue?
Asian ingredients with tomato puree sounded like we were in for a bit of fusion cooking. Unfortunately, the end result was weird. I mentioned the large amount of mushrooms. The dish offered varied textures with the firm shrimp, the slippery noodles, and the dominant shredded mushrooms. I didn’t expect it to taste Italian from tomatoes alone, however, the tomatoes seemed to flatten out the taste completely. There wasn’t any hint of the Asian flavors, even though there was ample sesame oil, five-spice powder, and garlic in there. To Howard, it tasted very sweet, though we couldn’t figure out if that was from the miniscule amount of sugar or the warm spices in the five-spice powder. The consensus at our table was that this dish didn’t quite work.
Last week when I had the tart finished by Thursday, I decided it was better to make the recipe for FFwD earlier in the week, leaving more time to write the post, so I organized myself to make this week’s recipe on Sunday. Unfortunately, my great plans for being organized went south (as they typically do).
Sunday afternoon, I was ready to start making Hachis Parmentier. After a quick visit the website, I realized that Hachis Parmentier is next week’s recipe. Oops. This week we are supposed to make the Vietnamese Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup. Because I had thawed the meat, that meant I had to make both. Oh, well. I’ll be very prepared next week because I’ve already made the recipe.
This week was pretty crazy. I wasn’t home for dinner most nights. Tuesday night, my book group had an outing to Harvard Square to hear Paul Harding read and answer questions about his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Tinkers, which we read back in August. He was an entertaining speaker, and it was fascinating to hear him talk about his path to becoming a writer.
Wednesday was the annual evening meeting for the Lexington Field & Garden Club. The program was an informative talk about the landscape of the nearby Minuteman National Historical Park. I had no idea how much the park has transformed the area over the past 30 years as major parts of the landscape have been restored to resemble the Minutemen’s surroundings during the fateful day of April 19, 1775. Trees have been cut down, asphalt roads have been dug up, and post-1920 suburban homes have been razed. I was most interested in the Park Service’s efforts to work to keep the agrarian traditions alive within the park’s boundaries. They land lease sections of the available pasture to local farmers. My favorite bit of information is the proper identification of the funky cows that graze on Route 2A. Initially, I was sure they were yaks. Later, I was convinced they were actually oxen. I learned that they are actually shaggy Highland Cattle.
Then, last night, I went to the movies with my movie buddy Jennifer. Out of an uninspiring field of current movies, we picked The Social Network, a movie about the origins of Facebook. It was much better than I expected. Even though he was a Harvard student, the Mark Zuckerberg character reminded me of so many of my classmates at MIT. Actually, all the computer geeks in the movie reminded me much more of MIT students than any Harvard students I’ve ever met.
Back to the soup. I made the broth on Monday night, but we didn’t get around to eating the soup until tonight (Friday’s) dinner. The comments from FFwDers that made the soup earlier in the week were mixed, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it. I did. Howard gave it “4 spoons out of 5”. I though the soup was perfect for the plentiful chilly days that have arrived for October in New England.
I used frozen homemade chicken stock, so it started with a flavorful base. The broth smelled amazing as it simmered. Based on the recipe, I was a little unsure what to do with the cheesecloth bundle and whether to strain the chopped vegetables from the broth. I was making the broth ahead, so I opted to remove the bundle and leave all the veggie bits. Like others, I was also unsure what two points of star anise meant. I ended up using two whole stars, but the flavor wasn’t too strong.
I had both fine rice vermicelli and wider rice sticks in the pantry. I opted for the rice vermicelli. I liked the texture, and they cooked really fast.
I served our soup accompanied by fresh mint (which I still have in my herb garden), lime wedges, bean sprouts, and some extra chopped cilantro. I had harvested the last of my basil last weekend. While I now have a large bag of chopped basil cubes in the freezer, that wasn’t going to work in this soup, so I skipped the basil. We also used the suggested condiments, adding a dab of hoisin sauce and a drizzle of hot chili oil to our bowls.
I’ll definitely make this soup again. I’m looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I liked all the flavors. There’s not much I’d change about it. I’d probably use less chicken and experiment with adding some vegetables.
By the way, the reason I’m not including the recipe is that one of the rules for French Fridays with Dorie is that I’m not supposed to post the recipes. If you think a recipe sounds appealing, you can buy the book, or you can come for dinner.