I didn’t want to be a curmudgeon so I held my tongue instead. While N- enthusiastically described his concept for an upcoming dinner party I had my serious doubts. Throughout the years we would discuss the merits of various meal schemes while simultaneously scribbling down depictions of these food fantasies. A giant corkboard in the kitchen oversaw our mock debates and in due time, the top two contenders would be slapped up in pretend attempt to gain some kind of neutrality. We explored, re-invented, and finally exhausted what we dubbed the “layered” concept which spanned the gamut from whimsical pastel hued ice cream bombes to things stuffed into bigger things. For this particular event, it was carbohydrates that were up for investigation.
Now right off, the idea of a layered carb dish sounded redundant and heavy hitting. Since when do elastic topped pants and a soft sofa for snoozing make for an exciting night? Moreover, the beige on beige color issue really bothered me but N- was untouched by such trivialities. Instead he persuaded me with a beguiling cross textural description of chewy twisted pasta against crispy cubes of potato and to make matters worse, there was absolutely no sauce in any way, shape, or form to help reconcile the two. Suffice to say that night did go down in history as the second worst dish he had ever created and served. The first place was affectionately reserved for a disturbingly viscous okra studded gumbo. Tough crowd I know, having been singled out earlier with my own cake-of-shame.
While I don’t doubt I have blissfully consumed at least a few million hydrates of carbon, I’d still irreverently say that I don’t much care for carbs. Far from a nutritionist and more of a generalist, muddled into my own layered complexity are the contradictions that rise and abound ad infinitum. I miss living in Italy and eating giant spools of egg rich pasta, and who can resist slurping up sprightly noodles in broth á la Tampopo? Yet the heavy consumption of these enticing forms of sugar and starch, not to mention the breads and pretty pastries atop fancy cut doilies leave me gorged and lethargic. Cut to the chase, the magic of photosynthesis resulting in stored carbohydrates in fruit and vegetable tissue- yes, the metamorphosis that transforms these whole foods into something that clogs- thank you, no.
But empathy sent me scuttling recently for rice sticks, influenced by a friend who had been waxing on about pad thai for weeks now. In a series of events including mistaken identity, I found myself pleasantly surprised to discover my rice noodles were in fact- lithe and magical bean threads, and that is perfect if you want to slink around in summer heat feeling svelte. Bean threads, cellophane noodles, shining noodles, and even powdered silk noodles are some of the poetic names given to this slender Asian noodle. Dried this food staple made of mung bean starch is whitish, fragile, and almost opaque. Bundled into a haphazard mass they look possibly suited for scrubbing pots. However, after a restorative fifteen minute soak in warm water and a quick toss into the fry pan, this once brittle crone turns translucent and shimmery, the now gossamer hairs of a mermaid picking up the glint of sun and surf. Receptive to liquids and a splash of seasonings, the supple strands take on the flavor and hue of any sauce it happens to share space with. Occupying the world of the unseen, it can be seen as a humble sort. Alone the taste is invisible and rather shapeless, but in cooperation with other ingredients these transparent filaments create a luminous web that brings out the best in all other elements. In spite of a definite presence these carbohydrates do not dominate, obliterate, or obfuscate, rather they are skillful collaborators with a light touch and a magical sense of beauty. It seems odd to consider a mere noodle as having the power to influence, yet with constant conversation in my head about the interconnectedness of things, perhaps nothing is too small or too irrelevant. Perhaps the ability to recede into the background, relax our borders, and dissolve into the soup isn’t such a bad thing, but exactly what we need. And hands down, I’d take that over heavy handed potatoes descending upon a plateful of gemelli, chewy or otherwise.
Ondine’s Tresses, serves 1: I admit this is a simplified take on chap jae, a Korean noodle dish I grew up with. Really any vegetable could be used, just think of slicing the veggies into longer elegant pieces. I didn’t have any hijiki at the time, but would make this addition since these noodles remind me of the glinting reflection of the sea. Also, although this noodle seems lighter than regular pasta- I discovered that it has more carbohydrates and a higher glycemic index. So if you are watching what you eat, please be aware of this.
Bean thread bundle approx 1.2 oz
1 garlic clove minced
2 scallions sliced into 2” lengths
4 shitake mushrooms, destemmed and sliced
Handful of watercress
1 small carrot grated
A bit of reconstituted hijiki
1/3 C water/broth
Toasted sesame oil/seeds
Directions: Place the tresses in a medium sized bowl and cover with warm water for about 15 minutes. Get a large fry pan and place over medium high heat. Swirl some oil into the pan and begin frying up the veggies in order of hardness. Sauté for a few minutes until the vegetables soften. Add the water or broth, about a teaspoon of mirin, a tablespoon of tamari, and the soaked noodles. Cook for a few minutes while stirring. The noodles will soften and become stretchy and transparent. At this point anoint with sesame oil until the threads glisten. Taste for additional seasoning tweaks. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.