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Susan Jung’s ants climbing a tree. Photography: Jonathan Wong. Styling: Nellie Ming Lee

How to make glass noodles springy and not slippery – two quick recipes for ‘dry’ dishes

  • When it comes to fen si, or cellophane noodles, soup broths can make them difficult to eat with chopsticks
  • These ‘dry’ dishes offer an alternative, and the noodles work equally well in spring rolls

I love the noodles known in Cantonese as fen si, or in English as mung bean vermicelli, bean thread noodles, glass noodles and cellophane noodles. In soups, they absorb the broth and become slippery and difficult to pick up with chopsticks, but in “dry” dishes, such as the two below, they have an interesting springy texture. They can also be mixed with vegetables and meat or seafood to add bulk to spring-roll fillings.

The noodles should be soaked in hot (but not boiling) water to hydrate them so they are pliable.

Ants climbing a tree

The name of this dish visualises the bits of meat clinging to mung bean noodles as ants climbing a tree. It’s a fast meal to cook – not including the time needed to soak the noodles, the ingredients take less than 15 minutes to prepare.

If you don’t eat pork, use minced chicken instead, or a meat substitute, such as Omnipork.

The ingredients of the dish. Photo: Jonathan Wong

125 grams (4 1/2 ounces) fen si
150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) minced pork
¼ tsp fine sea salt
5ml (1 tsp) light soy sauce
10ml (2 tsp) rice wine
20ml (4 tsp) cooking oil, divided
60 grams (3 1/2 tbsp) chilli bean paste
5 grams granulated sugar
150ml (2/3 cup) unsalted chicken or vegetable stock, preferably home-made

For the garnish:
1-2 spring onions
Fresh coriander sprigs

1 Put the fen si in a bowl and add hot water to cover. Leave to soak for about 15 minutes, then drain in a colander.

2 Marinate the pork while the vermicelli is soaking. Put the pork in a bowl and add the salt, soy sauce, rice wine and 5ml (1 tsp) of oil. Mix well, then leave for about 15 minutes. Mix the chilli bean paste with the sugar. Mince the spring onion.

Cook the pork with the chilli paste. Photo: Jonathan Wong

3 Heat a wok over a medium flame, then pour in 15ml (1 tbsp) of oil. When the oil is hot, add the pork and use a metal spatula to break up the meat into small pieces. Add the chilli bean paste/sugar mixture and stir well.

Add the fen si to the wok and mix thoroughly, then pour in the chicken or vegetable stock. Turn the flame to high so the liquid boils, then lower it to medium. Simmer while frequently lifting the noodles with chopsticks and mixing the ingredients. Cook until the fen si has absorbed the liquid.

Add the fen si to the wok, then pour in the stock. Photo: Jonathan Wong

4 Transfer the ingredients onto a serving dish, then scatter the spring onion on top and garnish with sprigs of fresh coriander. Serves two to four as part of a Chinese meal.

Glass noodles with seafood and onion

Seafood stock is easy to make using shrimp heads and shells, and the trimmings, bones and heads of fresh fish. I store the shells, trimmings and bones in the freezer and make the stock when I have enough: put the ingredients in a pan, add water to cover them, then simmer for about an hour before straining. Pour the stock into containers and freeze.

If you don’t have seafood stock, use a dashi bag (sold in the Japanese ingredients section of supermarkets) soaked for a few minutes in 120ml (1/2 cup) of boiling water.

10 grams dried shrimp
125 grams (4 ½ ounces) fen si
4 squid, with body length of about 10cm (4 inches)
6 fresh scallops, about 5cm in diameter
1 small onion (about 200 grams/7 ounces)
1 garlic clove
120ml (1/2 cup) seafood stock (or one dashi bag and 120ml [1/2 cup] boiling water)
10ml fish sauce, or to taste
½ tsp granulated sugar, or to taste
½ tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
10ml (2 tsp) cooking oil
2 spring onions

How to make zhajiangmian, Chinese noodles with bean paste and pork sauce

1 Put the dried shrimp in a small bowl and cover with 50ml (3 tbsp and 1 tsp)of hot water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes, then strain through a small sieve placed over a bowl. Set aside the shrimp and the soaking liquid. Put the fen si in a bowl, cover with warm water and leave to soak for about 15 minutes, then drain in a colander.

2 Clean the squid by pulling the tentacles and head straight out of the body. Remove and discard the innards and quill and pull off the thin purple skin. Cut the body into 5mm (1/4 inch) rings. Cut off the face and beak from the tentacles and discard. Dry the squid rings and tentacles with paper towels.

3 Cut the scallops in half so each one is two thin discs, then cut the discs into quarters. Cut the onion in half, then thinly slice it. Halve the garlic clove, then thinly slice the pieces. Cut the spring onions into 2.5cm (1 inch) lengths. Put the seafood stock (or dashi liquid) in a liquid measuring cup and add the shrimp soaking liquid, the fish sauce, sugar and salt and stir to dissolve.

4 Heat the cooking oil in a medium-sized clay pot placed over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic and dried shrimp and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the fen si, the shrimp soaking liquid/fish sauce mixture and the pepper. Bring to a boil, then add the squid and scallop pieces. Stir well, then cover the pot with the lid and turn the heat to low.

Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fen si has absorbed the liquid and the seafood is cooked. Taste for seasonings and stir in more fish sauce, sugar and/or black pepper, if needed. Add the spring onion and stir until wilted, then turn off the flame and serve with steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables. Serves two as a light meal.