Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vegetable Lo Mein

Something I've always ordered when we get Chinese takeout is either lo mein or chow mein, I will always choose noodles over fried rice! Here on the west coast chow mein has fried noodles, but they are not super crunchy or crispy. At least not anything I've had here in California. The chow mein here has the same noodles as lo mein, but they are stir fried separately instead of tossed in at the end. The noodles do have a slight crunch and more chew to them, but I would still consider the noodles to be soft. Especially since they soften over time and when you get takeout there's some time between when it's cooked and when you get it home. The main difference other than the crunchier noodles is chow mein tends to only have a couple of vegetables like celery and cabbage. Lo mein generally has a plethora of vegetables, which is why I prefer to make lo mein at home.

This recipe was a bit of an ordeal, it took over a week to perfect and six attempts total to get the right sauce. The short story is I started with a stir fry sauce recipe from another blog, combined that with a yakisoba sauce recipe to make a sort of hybrid sauce since I love that spice that yakisoba has. It was all wrong. So I started to try other recipes I saw online, and come to find out I don't really love hoisin in my sauce because of the five spice, white pepper isn't as good to me as black pepper, and I don't really like using sherry in the recipe either (most recipes call for Chinese cooking wine but say sherry can be substituted). I also found that while I love a bit of light colored soy sauce, having more than the amount of dark soy is just too salty to me. So when it comes down to it, this is a very basic sauce. I can't believe how many attempts it took, but there you have it. The flavor and type of lo mein I had been wanting to achieve. I will include my little list of tips at the bottom of the page if you're interested, but otherwise enjoy the recipe!

Vegetable Lo Mein
    4 servings, can also be served as a side
  • 6 ounces lo mein noodles/Chinese noodles, you can substitute thin spaghetti or linguine 
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage, such as Napa
  • 1/4 of a white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced or cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup carrots, julienned 
  • 2-4 green onions, sliced on the diagonal, separated
  • handful of baby bok choy, torn into pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (you can also add in 1/2 a tsp of minced ginger)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • optional add ins: bean sprouts, snow peas, bamboo shoots, mushrooms
For the sauce:
  • 1 Tbsp light soy sauce*
  • 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp oyster sauce (omit to make this vegan)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar + 2 tsp warm water to dissolve it
  • 1/4 tsp cornstarch (optional)
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp water
*Light soy sauce does not refer to low sodium soy sauce, light soy sauce is saltier and lighter in color than the dark soy sauce you commonly buy in grocery stores. If you don't have light soy sauce, you can use 3 tbsp of dark soy sauce or low sodium dark soy sauce.

Prepare the noodles according to the package directions, for lo mein noodles it's generally just a few minutes to boil until al dente (if you are using fresh egg noodles, you don't need to boil them first). After the noodles are boiled, drain them and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking. Drain the noodles really well.

Add 1 tbsp of oil to the wok and add the white parts of the green onion, sliced onions, the minced garlic and stir fry for about 30 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant. Then add in the peppers and carrots (and whatever other veggies you're using) and stir fry for another minute. Add in the bok choy and cabbage, stir fry until the greens start to wilt.  Add the noodles to the wok and pour the sauce mix over the noodles, then toss in the green part of the green onions. You can use a folding or scooping motion to combine everything, I like to use tongs to toss everything together. Once everything is well combined serve immediately with extra soy sauce and hot sauce on the side, we love Sriracha!

  • If you are using spaghetti or linguine pasta I recommend doing a quick stir fry with the noodles in the wok before you cook the vegetables. For some reason the spaghetti when I used it was great the first time when I stir fried it, but the second time I made it I just added it in and the texture was just wrong. It was too slippery and didn't have enough chew to it. 
  • If you're going to stir fry the pasta then in a wok or super large skillet over the highest heat add 1 tbsp oil, then add the pasta and stir fry for a few minutes until they develop a little bit of crispness, remove and set aside. Again, you can skip this step completely and simply toss the noodles with the veggies and sauce at the end. 
  • I do not recommend stir frying Chinese style noodles because they will stick and break apart. I had luck stir frying the pancit canton style fresh noodles, but I actually don't like those in this dish because they are very large and chewy and I don't like the addition of extra oil unless it's necessary. 
  • Sesame seeds aren't exactly traditional, but I love the addition! It really brings out that delicious sesame oil in the sauce.
  • Tofu, chicken, beef, or shrimp are wonderful additions to this dish!

Those are a few of my attempts that were yummy but not quite right! On the right those two pictures were made using thin spaghetti noodles. The top right had them stir fried first, and they were great. The bottom right had the spaghetti tossed in at the end, not my favorite. The top left was made using tofu and thin Chinese noodles, that was delicious but the noodles aren't my favorite because they're very thin like ramen. The bottom left was made with fresh noodles that were labeled "pancit canton," which are just chow mein style noodles that are ready to stir fry. Those had a bit too much chew, and the sauce has hoisin in it which I eventually just eliminated completely. You can see there was quite a lot of trial and error, so although this recipe is perfect to me you may find it takes some tweaking until you love it too! 

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