You know the situation; you ask friends what they need when times are rough, and then you say some variation of these hopefully comforting words: “Whatever you need, I’m here.” You wonder if anyone is really going to take you up on it. Then, of course, you make sure to follow up with something that’ll be well-received since no one ever tells you what they really need. Because when you say you’ll do anything to help, you really do mean it...right?
Well, you better watch out if you dare to ask us what we might need during a trying time. It’s very likely that we will request food, and our request is sure to be specific. After all, we’ve learned a lot about our good friends’ cooking skills through the years: we know who to ask for the best cheesy lasagna on Sunday night, or authentic paella that’s out of this world, or vegan versions of classic Bulgarian dishes, or stellar pizelles made from a treasured family recipe, or possibly the perfect grilled cheese, or maybe some very magical noodles.
Here, let’s focus on the one-pot-wonder that has come to be known to us as ‘noodle party’ so you can make them, too! With so much care and love, our dear friends Marlinee Iverson and Max Maloney posed the ‘We’re here for you; what do you need?” question one bleak fall day, and one of us answered, without any qualms or even so much as a hint of self-awareness, “Throw us a party and make those noodles.”
(Well, they did ask!)
So they did just what we requested because they’re awesome! We kinda knew that they would. We love this dish because it comes with a good deal of community. It goes like this: we all share a laugh while the noodles boil and compare battle scars and consider all the choices of condiments at the family-style toppings buffet. Being around good friends and sharing awesome food (that we didn’t have to make all by ourselves) cheers us up and helps to cheer us on when circumstances have us feeling down. This is really what life is all about: spending time with the people who love us no matter how much of a hassle we can be at certain times.
Our friend Marlinee grew up with noodle dishes often on the table at her family’s house. When asked about how “Noodle Party” became tradition in their family, she tells us, “Noodles are the street food of Thailand. It's like hamburgers here in America. We'd have noodles all the time for lunch and dinner, and there are at least 1,000 ways to make them.”
When we were invited over to Max and Marlinee’s house, we also got another chance to watch how it’s all done and take a few mental notes. At previous noodle parties, we’d quizzed Marlinee’s mom, Chouwanee Clark, as she ladled her flavorful broth over noodles. She’s very humble, and our over-the-top praise for her authentic Thai cooking caused her to laugh and say, “It’s nothing; it’s easy.” We finally coaxed a little information out of her. One secret, she says, to making a good broth is including a whole daikon radish. The radish helps flavor the broth and becomes silky smooth and soft, almost like a potato. Marlinee adds, “Put as much depth, flavor-wise, in the broth as possible, because, like any soup, it gets better the longer you let it sit.”
The best part is that everything, the stock, the vegetables, and the noodles, is cooked in the same pot. It’s efficient. This also makes it pretty simple as well, which is a main requirement of ours when we’re feeding a crowd. If your broth is flavorful, then everything will be delicious. It is basically the soul of this dish. The vegetables and noodles all soak up the flavor of the broth and the fresh herbs, peanuts, limes, and other garnishes enhance the whole noodle bowl experience.
Marlinee says that the most important thing for people to remember when cooking this dish at home is to offer a bunch of different toppings. “Don't forget a sprinkle of sugar,” she also warns, “It seems weird, but it must happen!”
With our friends’ help, we think we’ve figured out this noodle game. Now when a friend needs cheering up or cheering on, you don’t even have to ask, “What can I do to help?” All you have to do is say, “I know just the thing!”
Vegetarian Noodle Party
Shiitake Broth (recipe follows)
1 bunch mint (stems discarded)
1 bunch basil (stems discarded)
1 small bunch cilantro (large stems discarded)
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
2 serrano or Thai chili peppers (sliced)
1 cup kimchi (optional)
2 limes (quartered)
1/4 cup Sriracha
2 tablespoons sugar
2 bunches bok choy (trimmed, root end discarded)
1/2 pounds snow peas
1 large carrot (shredded)
2 14-ounce packages of ‘rice stick’ noodles
Soft-boiled eggs and baked tofu (optional)
Make the Shiitake Broth according to the recipe below.
Slice the daikon radish and the shiitake mushrooms that were reserved after making the Shiitake Broth (see recipe below). Arrange the vegetables however you’d like on a serving platter along with the mint, basil, cilantro, peanuts, chili peppers, kimchi, limes, Sriracha, and sugar. This will serve as a mini buffet so your guests can add anything they’d like to their own individual noodle bowls.
Bring the Shiitake Broth up to a boil. Lower the bok choy into the broth for 2 minutes or until cooked through. Retrieve the bok choy using a strainer and set aside until ready to serve. Repeat this action for the snow peas and the shredded carrot. Arrange the bok choy, snow peas, and carrots on the serving platter alongside the rest of the garnishes and vegetables.
As each guest is ready to eat, drop about 3 ounces (or one serving) of noodles into the boiling broth. Allow the noodles to cook for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes before fishing the noodes out with a spyder tool or strainer and placing noodles into a bowl. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of broth. Allow your guests to top the noodles with vegetables, hot peppers, herbs, lime juice, peanuts, and kimchi in whatever combination they’d like. We often also add a soft-boiled egg or baked tofu to add a little more protein if you’d like. (Serves 8.)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 bunch green onions (root end trimmed and discarded, green tops reserved for garnish)
1 five-inch daikon radish (peeled)
8 whole cloves garlic
1 four-inch piece ginger (sliced)
5 whole star anise
4 1/2 quarts water
3 medium carrots (roughly chopped)
2 six-inch pieces of kombu (rinsed)
2 cups whole dried shiitake mushrooms (rinsed)
1/4 cup soy sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos (more for garnish)
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
Into a large stock pot over high heat, add the sesame oil and allow it to heat until it just starts to smoke. Add the green onions, daikon, garlic, ginger, and star anise. Allow the ingredients to lightly blacken; this should take about three minutes; this process of lightly burning the aromatics adds a ton of flavor to the broth.
Add the water to the pot. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Add the carrots, kombu, dried mushrooms, soy sauce, and vinegar to the pot and bring to a boil. Once the water starts to boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.
Using a spyder tool or small strainer, fish out the daikon and mushrooms. Set aside to cool. Using the spyder or strainer, fish out and discard all other solids from the broth. Crank the heat back up to high and continue to cook the broth until it has reduced by about 20%. (Makes 4 quarts.)