NOODLES: Hand-made Beijing-style wheat noodles

Today, I bring you a recipe from my people back home. That is, Beijing, China.

Some of you might be surprised to learn that the blood in my veins is mostly Chinese, not Thai, despite what my surname might suggest. I did grow up in Bangkok, learning to speak the language and love the spicy nip every meal brought to my tongue, but I also learned to cherish my northern Chinese heritage. My healthy love of wheat noodles comes from lao lao, my maternal grandmother, who used to welcome us into her steamy kitchen and proudly show us a feast in the making. She had a gift – you could taste that her food was special – but dad always insisted that the difference was in how she put her love for us in each dish. A clear soup made from an entire chicken. Stirfried xue cai, or pickled mustard greens. Oxtail, simmered for hours and lightly fragranced with five-spice. Jiao zi, steamed or boiled dumplings (I’ll be posting a recipe for those soon) that almost always grace a Chinese northerner’s dinner table.

But the one thing that I always begged for, given the chance, were her wheat noodles.

She hasn’t made them in a while. In her old age – she’s turning 70 soon – she’s resorted to packaged Japanese udon. But I remember them in all their glorious chewy-yet-tender charm; I couldn’t ever get enough of the instant sense of comfort every bite offered. They belonged in broths, stirfries, or on their own with a little spicy fermented bean paste. Mostly, they belonged in my mouth.

The noodles I’m about to teach you today are the best I can muster to replicate memories of my grandparents’ house. There are only two ingredients, but the amount of love you put into them is what makes the difference. Lao lao‘s kind of difference.

You’ll need:

– 2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

– 1 cup water

If you have time, watch the video below. I filmed it for part of a series of cooking videos we’re publishing with Quest University Canada’s student-run newspaper, the Mark. 

If you don’t have time, follow the steps below:

1. Combine flour and water in a large bowl. You can do this with your hands (sticky, messy, but utterly satisfying, I’m told) or your utensil of choice.

2. Knead. Knead. Knead. For as long as you can stand to. However you want to. The water and mechanic motion is what develops gluten, those strings of protein that will give these noodles their bite and fight. I typically give up after about 10 minutes, during which time I slowly incorporate small dustings of flour until the dough pulls away from my hands and counter.

3. Let dough rest for about 15 minutes. This allows the gluten to relax, and will make the next step much easier.

4. Using a large rolling pin (or wine/beer bottle of choice, as I do in the video), roll out the dough as thinly as you can. You don’t want the dough to tear, but I usually aim for about a 1mm thick sheet. The dough does not have to be round or rectangular; fashion it after your favorite dinosaur, if you wish.

5. Fold the dough: sprinkle a generous handful of flour over its surface. Then take the edge closest to you and make about a 3-inch fold. Flour the bit you’ve just folded over, and then repeat until you reach the end. DON’T SKIMP ON THE FLOURING!

6. Using a sharp chef’s knife (or a cleaver like this one, like the Chinese do), cut your noodles to your desired width. I generally cut them to 0.5cm in width, which gives me a tagliatelle-like shape. I’ve also cut them as wide as you’ll find with pappardelle or Thai wide pad see ew rice noodles with great success!

7. Toss the noodles to unfold the layers and reveal your [im]perfect strands.

8. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, and add your fresh noodles. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until you’re satisfied with their level of bite. Then stop them from cooking (or you’ll just have fresh mush) by quickly rinsing in a colander.

9. Enjoy in your favorite noodle recipes! The video depicts a quick peanut butter, soy sauce, and lime dressing with plenty of fresh veg, recipe below.

Fresh cold noodle salad dressing:

– Half a lime

– 3 tbsp soy sauce (Kikkoman works well)

– 2 tsp toasted sesame oil

– peanut butter (smooth or chunky – doesn’t matter!)

– minced garlic and chili peppers (optional)

– freshly julienned vegetables (I used a carrot and half an English cuke)

– A handful of roughly chopped cilantro, stems and all

1. Mix together the first five ingredients in a small bowl. Toss with about two handfuls (about 3 cups) of freshly boiled and cooled noodles.

2. Top with fresh vegetables, and garnish with a lime segment and cilantro.

3. Slurp heartily.

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