Called fen si, Chinese glass noodles, also referred to as cellophane or crystal noodles, are made of mung bean starch (please note: these are not at all the same as "rice vermicelli"). Opaque when raw, they become transparent when cooked.
Though they have no flavor on their own, their ability to absorb flavor makes them popular in various types of dishes. Soaked until pliable, they are excellent in broth, stir-fried or braised with all sorts of vegetables and proteins. They are also traditionally used as filler in dumplings and spring rolls.
Often labeled "bean thread," these noodles generally come, shaped in small bundles as individual servings, packaged several at a time, 8 to 10 to a pack. And while they are filling to me, it is not unusual to serve a bowl of plain rice along side, for many do not consider any dish made with these noodles, a full meal. They are, after all, made from legumes not grains!
Delightfully slippery and slightly chewy, here is a quick, easy, classic vegetarian spicy stir-fried glass noodle dish with cabbage and dried shiitakes. For a heartier version of the dish, simply add ground beef or pork.
You can find more recipes using glass noodles in my book, Noodles Every Day.
SZECHUAN-STYLE GLASS NOODLES WITH CABBAGE AND SHIITAKES
Serves 2 to 4
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 medium to large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely julienned
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water until softened, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
8 ounces ground beef or pork (70% lean; optional)
1/3 medium green cabbage, core removed, section julienned into 1/4-inch wide strips
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/3 cup Shaoxing or Sake rice wine
Sambal Olek or similar chili sauce
Light pinch sugar
3 small bundles glass noodles, soaked in cold water until pliable and ready to use
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
8 sprigs cilantro, leaves only
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the oil and stir-fry the garlic and ginger until fragrant and light golden, about 1 minute. Add the shiitakes and continue to stir-fry until fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. (Add the meat, if using, and stir-fry breaking up any lumps, until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.) Add the cabbage, soy sauce, rice wine, chili sauce to taste, and sugar. Toss, cover and braise until the cabbage is wilted and light brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning at this time. Toss in the noodles, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Repeat once or twice more until the noodles have absorbed any liquid, are completely transparent and start to sizzle, about 3 minutes. Drizzle sesame oil on top, toss well, and serve hot, garnished with cilantro leaves.