Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stir Fried Noodles: Welcoming the Year of the Dragon

Gluten-Free & Vegan Pancit Bihon
Since my family's visit in December, my culinary state of mind has felt especially connected to my cultural roots.  The amazing time we had  brought back many fond memories of the foods I grew up with.  One of my favorites was pancit (pahn-SIT), the umbrella term for noodle dishes in the Philippines.  While the name pancit is actually derived from pian i sit, a Hokkien term meaning "something cooked fast," the definition for pancit that I learned as a child was "long life."  And thus, it's a time-honored tradition for it to be served on special occasions to represent blessings of not only long life, but good health and prosperity as well.  And as we celebrate the Lunar New Year and welcome the Year of the Dragon, it's a perfect time to make and enjoy this Filipino dish with Chinese origins.

Depending on the type of noodle you use and the ingredients you have on hand, there are endless variations on pancit.  Today's recipe is my take on Pancit Bihon (BEE-hohn), which calls for rice stick, also known as vermicelli or mai fun.  It's thin, wiry, brittle, and nearly translucent when dry, but when cooked it becomes pliable and opaque, easily taking on different flavors.

Still in the package and ready to go into my cart.

While there are many preparations for pancit that are more elaborate than what you will see here, I am holding true to its original meaning of "something cooked fast." From prep to plating, this can take less than 25 minutes.  And with so many of us rushing to and fro to keep up with our daily commitments, a simple, satisfying, and beautiful dish like this can help us to take some of that time back to stop and just enjoy.  And for the new year, why not celebrate that?

After all, a long life is never built upon moments that are short-lived.

Pancit Bihon
Gluten-Free & Vegan 

1 tablespoon oil
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2-3 tablespoons oil
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 c fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/3 c cut baby corn
1 tablespoon GF tamari
3-4 baby bok choy

2 c warm vegetable stock
3 tablespoons GF tamari

8 oz rice stick
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

chopped scallions, to garnish
lemon wedges, to garnish

1.  In a small saucepan, warm 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat.  Cook 1/4 teaspoon turmeric in oil for 1-2 minutes (you should see small bubbles) to infuse the oil with a bright yellow-orange color.  Achiote is traditionally what is called for, so feel free to use that if preferred.  After cooking, remove from heat and set aside.
2.  Prepare vegetables.  If using rehydrated shiitakes, you may only need 1/3 cup, as the flavor is more concentrated.  As for the bok choy, simply remove the bottom part of the stem, slice the white part of the leaves, and leave the green part intact.
3.  Heat 2-3 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a wok or large pot.
  • Add garlic and fry for 1 minute until aromatic and just becoming golden.  
  • Add onions and saute for 1-2 minutes until translucent and softened.
  • Add carrots and celery and saute for 2 minutes.
  • Add shiitakes and saute for 2 minutes.
  • Add baby corn and white part of bok choy and saute for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add tamari and bok choy leaves.  Cook for 1-2 minutes.
4.  Transfer stir-fried vegetables to a separate plate.
5.  In the same wok/pot, add stock and tamari and just bring to a boil.  
6.  Add rice stick, making sure that all the noodles come in contact with the liquid.  Cover tightly and reduce to low heat.  Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes.  You can cut the noodles over the wok to make this process easier, but I prefer to keep the noodles as close to whole as possible.
7.  Uncover, add infused oil from earlier and red pepper flakes and stir noodles to evenly coat.  They will have absorbed most of the liquid by now, and as they take on the color of the turmeric they will start to lightly fry. 
8.  At this point, you can incorporate the vegetables back in or you can plate the noodles and then top them with the vegetables.
9.  Garnish with lemon or lime wedges and scallions.
10.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Fresh, organic Shiitake mushrooms.

I loves me some mise en place.

Long Life, Good Health, & Prosperity.

For the most part, this is how my grandmother and mother taught me to make pancit when I was younger.  But like I mentioned earlier, what you put in it is entirely up to you.  To keep it more traditional, you can use Chinese sausage, shrimp, shredded chicken, and garnish with hard-boiled eggs, fried garlic, and fish sauce.  But if none of those ingredients are handy, please feel free to wander off the beaten path.  Use what you have, use what's in season, and use ingredients that would be appropriate to a dish that celebrates life and living it to its fullest.

It is said that the Year of the Dragon can bring great innovation and change.  But with both of those things, great risk and faith are also required.  May you find all four in this Lunar New Year, and may long life, with prosperity and good health to enrich it, also be yours to share and enjoy


  1. Hmmm, this looks so amazing and delicious. Pretty simple and basic too, but I bet I would love your dish soooo much more than I would my own. I want you to cook for me! :) Happy New Year!

    1. Sounds like an ideal situation for a trade. :) I love your style of cooking and I would so enjoy cooking for you, Stephanie. Maybe one day when I'm back in Michigan for a visit. Until then, a blessed New Year to you and your family!

  2. wow, this looks good. Can you be my personal chef?

    1. You bet, Rachel! Now just to figure out how to actually get the food to you.... :)

  3. I just wanted to say I randomly found this recipe and we make it all the time. Thank you!!


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