Chinese noodle making is so resourceful, the operating principle seems to be, "If you can turn it into flour, it can be a noodle." Chinese cooks recognize the noodle's value as a cheap, portable, nonperishable foodstuff, and large-scale commercial production was under way as early as A.D. 100. Because of its long shape, it gained cultural status as the icon for longevity. To this day, noodles are requisite at birthday parties.
Chinese rice noodles are the precursor of the rice sticks or noodles of Thai cuisine, and Chinese mung bean noodles gave birth to the cellophane noodles of Vietnam.
Japanese noodles also trace their origins to China. Udon, a thick Japanese noodle typically made from wheat, is served hot in soups or cold with a dipping sauce. Other notable Japanese noodles include the buckwheat noodle, Soba, and the thin wheat noodle called Somen. Oh, and a newsflash for college students who live on them: In a millennial survey of what Japanese people considered their most influential contribution to 20th century life, Instant Ramen topped the list-ahead of karaoke, headphones, video games and compact discs.
Look for Chinese egg noodles in the international section of the supermarket, or use two packages of ramen noodles, discarding the seasoning packets. A basic creamy processed peanut butter works best here.
Chinese Chicken and Noodle Salad with Peanut Sauce
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 ounces Chinese egg noodles
1/3 cup reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons dry sherry
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
5 ounces Romaine lettuce
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into thin strips
1 cup peeled, diced cucumber
6 green onions, sliced 1/4 -inch thick
Cut chicken breasts crosswise into thin slices.
Heat oil in large, nonstick skillet over high heat. Add chicken and saute about 3 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain in colander and let cool.
Whisk together peanut butter, vinegar, sherry, soy sauce, water and sugar in a small bowl.
Stack Romaine lettuce leaves. Roll up into a long cylinder (like a cigar). Slice across the roll to form thin strips.
Toss noodles with chicken and peanut butter mixture in a large bowl. Add bell pepper, cucumber, green onions and Romaine; toss to combine well. Serves 6.
Recipe by Greg Patent.