"Asian Noodles," by Nina Simonds

Pros: Comfort food like you’ve never had it before
Cons: Noodles can be a little bland
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

First published 8/16/2000

It could be tempting to review only one recipe in this book. Not that the entire book isn’t absolutely delectable, but because this one recipe exemplifies Ms. Nina Simonds’ true skill with Asian recipes.

Don’t worry, I won’t review just one recipe. But I will tell you about it.

This book starts with an introduction that speaks of Ms. Simonds’ time studying in Asia. The first thing it mentions is “Mr. Chang’s cinnamon beef noodles…nothing comforted me more when I was tired, homesick, or chilled to the bone…For seventy-five cents, I was rejuvenated – and so my lifelong love affair with noodles had begun.”

I am so grateful for Mr. Chang and his cinnamon beef noodles. If he hadn’t been there, maybe Ms. Simonds wouldn’t have written a noodle book, and maybe she wouldn’t have included a cinnamon beef noodles dish.

Variety

In here you’ll find not only explanations of all the different types of Asian noodles, but full-color pictures! Now I can tell the difference between soba, somen, and udon, not to mention Korean sweet potato noodles, rice sticks, and cellophane noodles. Ms. Simonds even provides handy charts for how you prepare the various noodles, what sorts of dishes you use them in, and – in case you can’t find the right kind of noodles – what other sorts of noodles you can substitute for them!

Noodle Starters and Sides

Not every noodle dish in this cookbook is perfect. I didn’t find the Chile Noodles particularly stunning, somehow. You’ll find a lot of nice, simple recipes in this chapter, though, such as Wild Mushroom Noodles and Ginger Scallion Noodles. Don’t forget the Curried Vegetable Noodles, Ginger Scallops with Thin Noodles, and Crispy Shrimp Balls. And many recipes are accompanied by a full-page full-color photo of either the recipe or the ingredients.

Oh, goodness – Chicken Noodle Satay! Any excuse for Satay Sauce is a worthy one. Then there’s Spicy Korean Beef Noodles – it’s hard to go wrong there.

Noodle Soups

This chapter starts off, of course, with a Chinese Chicken Broth. It’s very simple, flavored primarily with sake and ginger. Then you’ll find a Tomato Noodle Soup – simple, delicate, with the elusive flavor of sake and soy sauce. You’ll find a Thai Clam Pot and a Seafood Hot Pot.

But wait, here it is: the Cinnamon Beef Noodles I mentioned earlier. If you only make one dish from this cookbook, let it be this. Have your spouse make it for you when you’re sick; it really isn’t that complex. You stir-fry a few seasonings, add water and soy sauce, add beef, simmer for a long time, remove various seasonings, add spinach, and then serve with noodles. Simple, easy, and so comforting to the sick that it beats out chicken noodle soup any day.

The Thai Beef with Mint Soup is another fantastic, comforting, delectable soup. It’s a little more complex than the Cinnamon Beef Noodles, but every bit as good. I’ll give Ms. Simonds this: she knows her noodle soups!

Noodle Salads

Of Asian Noodle Salads, Ms. Simonds says that they “are deliciously unpredictable.” I think this is as good a description as any for Wilted Spinach and Crab Salad, Lemon Broccoli Noodles, and Grilled Seafood Salad (a meal disguised as a salad).

Then there’s our favorite salad: Rainbow Peanut Noodles. Of them Ms. Simonds says, “I’m invited to neighborhood parties not for my witty conversation but for my peanut noodles.” It’s a noodle dish with uncooked vegetables, cooked chicken, and the best peanut sauce I’ve ever had in my entire life. I could live off of this stuff. It’s rich, thick (so it clings to the noodles and vegetables), and wonderful.

This chapter also includes Spicy Pesto Soba, Thai Pork with Slippery Noodles and Pineapple, and Warm Garlic Beef and Cellophane Noodle Salad.

Noodle Suppers

In the intro to this section, Ms. Simonds discusses the versatility of lo mein dishes. “For more conservative eaters, I choose oyster sauce or black bean sauce; if I know my guests are adventurous, I choose spicier dishes, such as Chinese Curry Noodles or Thai-Style Spicy Beef Jantaboon.”

Here you’ll encounter Singapore Fried Rice Noodles, everyone’s favorite Pad Thai, Crisp-Cooked Vegetarian Noodles, Saucy Garlic Pork Lo Mein, and Hot-and-Sour Shrimp Lo Mein. We rather like the Chinese Curry Noodles, although due to personal tastes we left out the onion. It isn’t the best of the dishes in this cookbook, but it is yummy, and it reheats surprisingly well for a noodle dish. It’s also quite easy. Next you’ll find Garlic Beef with Shiitake Mushrooms on Golden Noodles and the aforementioned Thai-Style Spicy Beef Jantaboon (yum!).

Dipping Sauces and Dressings

This section is dominated by peanut sauces (peanut sauce, satay sauce, Chinese peanut dressing – our favorite!), sweet-and-sour sauces (Vietnamese dressing, spicy sweet-and-sour dipping sauce), and sesame sauces (spicy sesame dressing, Korean sesame dressing).

You will, however, find other flavors here as well: Red Hot Chile Oil Dressing, Chinese Garlic Dressing, Spicy Korean Dipping Sauce, Mongolian Sauce, and Cilantro Vinaigrette.

When it comes to Asian food, and in particular noodles, Ms. Simonds really knows what she’s doing. It’s hard to impress me with noodles – they’re bland, and take a lot of flavoring to turn into something spectacular. Not all of these recipes succeed in being something spectacular, but many of them do, and the rest are definitely good.


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