THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Use Your Noodle

For the past week or so, a high-pressure system has been sitting just northeast of the Hawaiian Islands. Or so the meteorologists say. I don’t really understand meteorological speak, since the weatherperson always seems to be guessing anyway. Partly sunny, partly cloudy with chances of showers. Duh, that’s like everyday in Hawai‘i. It’s not like we’re prone to snow, tornadoes or sudden overnight hurricanes. What I do know is that the high-pressure system is making life unbearable. Hot and muggy. No, more like HOT AND MUGGY. If you don’t bathe regularly, moss and lichens may start sprouting on your skin. Sweat, sweat and more sweat. Sometimes it seems like I’m sweating while in the shower.

Which brings me to my culinary point. What do you cook and eat in conditions like this? The house is already hot enough to slow roast any meat and what? You want to turn on the oven? Pan fry? Just as unappealing and even more so, since I may inadvertently season the dish with my own perspiration. What about a cold salad or fruit? A better choice given the environmental conditions, but sometimes you want something more. Cold noodle salad? Now we’re getting warmer… I mean cooler.

Origins of the Noodle

Despite arguments made by various food anthropologists and historians claiming the noodle’s origin as either China or Italy, I think it’s widely accepted now that ancient records of noodle-making go farther back in China’s past. Several thousand years back. And though we mainly think of wheat flour-based noodles due to Italian pasta, noodles are also made with rice, mung bean, potato and buckwheat. The oldest known Chinese noodles were made from millet.

The Gochiso Gourmet’s own personal explanation of how noodles came to be may not be far from the truth. Have you ever made bread? At some point you may have either added too much liquid or not enough flour to your dough. What happens? You get stickier, pastier dough that sticks to your hands. What do you do? You rub your hands together to get that sticky dough off of your hands. What falls from your hands? Long threads of dough, like short handmade angel hair pasta. Perchance some of this fell into a pot of simmering liquid and voila, cooked noodles! I would bet that this is exactly what happened in any culture that started making noodles. The cook had some type of wheat, buckwheat or potato dough that was just a wee bit too sticky and accidentally cleaned their hands over a pot of simmering liquid. Farfetched as this sounds, the rubbing of hands with tacky dough is exactly how traditional couscous is made in the Middle East.

Types of Noodles

Noodles, photo by Ryan Tatsumoto/Gochiso Gourmet

The most common variety of noodles are those made with hard wheat semolina flour and go by the common name pasta. Short of a gluten allergy, I’m sure everyone has their favorite shape of pasta, whether it is long, short, wide, flat, curled, small or large. Therefore, I won’t be spending much time discussing the common varieties of pasta. However, there are updated versions of pasta that are made with whole grains — the type of grains that we all should be trying to consume as the bulk of our dietary carbohydrates. Sometimes it’s in the shape of whole wheat pasta; sometimes it’s a blend of various whole grains. In both cases these are not the original brown-colored, unappetizing pastas that were previously only found in the neighborhood hippie health food store. With the use of hard white wheat (as opposed to hard red wheat), these whole wheat pastas virtually look, cook and taste like refined wheat pasta. Throw a little sauce on the pasta and the slightly darker color will be obscured by even the finickiest eater at the table.

Though I usually don’t promote one particular brand over another, I do enjoy the multi-grain pasta by Barilla. Their Barilla Plus angel hair, spaghetti and fusilli are made with traditional semolina flour plus lentils, chickpeas, spelt, barley and oats so that each serving contains 17 grams of protein and seven grams of dietary fiber. The cooked noodles also have the usual pasta consistency but don’t get as soggy if mixed with sauce for next-day leftovers. I specifically love them in my cold pasta salads since they maintain a good texture (even when sitting in various dressings for several days) and are healthy to boot!

For a Japanese touch there’s soba (usually a combination of buckwheat, wheat and yam flour) and somen (wheat flour) and since both are traditionally served cold (or room temperature), they make the ideal meals when the mercury is on the rise. Both can also be served with traditional shoyu-based dressings or dipping sauces, or tossed with western vinaigrettes for fusion pasta salad. Another benefit of these noodles is that they take very little time to cook, especially since the last thing you want to do when it’s 95 degrees and climbing is stand for 10 to 15 minutes over a boiling pot of water.

Beat the Heat

So the next time Mother Nature decides to provide an outdoor sauna for you, you can either decide to dine in in your neighborhood market freezer aisle, or use your noodle and try one of these cool noodle dishes.

For my Easy Barbecue Pasta recipe (printed in the Nichi Bei Times in August 2007) visit http://www.gochisogourmet.com/Aug_2007.html.

For my Shrimp Cilantro Pesto Pasta recipe (printed in the Nichi Bei Times in July 2009) visit http://www.gochisogourmet.com/Jul2_2009.html.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and University of California at San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kaneohe, Hawai‘i and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

Pasta Sea Salad (above)

Sea salad pasta, photo by Ryan Tatsumoto/Gochiso Gourmet

1/2 lb. Barilla Plus angel hair pasta

1/2 lb. seasoned seaweed salad

3 tbsp. furikake

Shredded surimi strips

Dressing:

2 tbsp. canola oil

1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. sesame oil

2 tsp. honey

1 tbsp. shoyu

1 tsp. fresh grated ginger

1 dash sesame seeds

Break angel hair pasta in half and cook according to package instructions, then drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with the next three ingredients, then toss with the dressing (you can also use a bottled dressing of your choice instead). Serve chilled or at room temperature.

You can find seasoned seaweed salad at Japanese markets or do a Web search for seasoned seaweed salad to find distributors in your area.

Somen Salad

1 package dried somen noodles

1/4 cup cooking oil

3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp. sesame seeds

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. shoyu

Cook somen in boiling water according to package instructions (usually once the noodles rise to the surface, they’re done). Drain noodles and rinse with cold water. Mix the next six ingredients and toss with cooked somen noodles.

You can also portion individual servings of cooked, drained and cooled somen noodles in a large flat container. Lightly cover noodles with shredded iceberg lettuce, thin strips of kamaboko (fish cake), thin strips of fried egg, sliced green onions and sliced char siu or ham. Cover with the same dressing right before serving.

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