A few weeks ago we were in South Africa, and I was so excited to be able to go into a HUGE grocery store so that I could get, among other things, rice vermicelli noodles so that I could make what is one of my very favorite things to eat: pancit bihon! I made it the day after we returned and am trying to hold myself back from making it again. Tonight.
My very oldest friend (by which I mean my first friend; she’s only 2 and 1/2 years older than I am!) Sarah and I have always loved to cook and eat together, from the time we were eight and ten years old trying to make things out of children’s cookbooks in our mothers’ kitchens which NEVER seemed to have the right ingredients for anything we wanted to make. I can remember making weird no-bake cookies that I think were something like peanut butter rolled together with cornflakes (ew) and also making chocolate-chip pancakes and ALSO, once, during the summer, eating an entire bag of chocolate chips together while watching Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea marathon-style, because it was too hot to bake, anyway.
So one of the last times I was at Sarah’s house I was nosing around her cupboards, because that’s what we generally do upon entering each other’s houses. I do it because I’m looking for junk food that I know Sarah might have that I might not buy for myself but will certainly eat; she does it in order to rearrange my messy cabinets. Incidentally, Sarah is a lot like my husband in this particular regard. They can’t understand how I can STAND to rifle through things to find what I need, and they love to rearrange closets and cabinets and then to stand in front of their work saying, “see? Isn’t that better? Are you going to KEEP it this way, Rachel?”
(No. Can’t say that I will.)
But I digress. When I was in Sarah’s cupboards last, I found some rice noodles. “Ooh! I love these! Let’s cook something,” I said. “Pancit!” she said. “I have a recipe from Jeremy’s aunt.”
Jeremy’s family is Philipino, and pancit is a very essential dish. You can think of it, basically, as a rice noodle stir-fry to which you can add any number of vegetables and even meats if you like. What you must not leave out is the cooking of the noodles IN BROTH and in the pan in which you’ve stir-fried the vegetables. I would not dare to claim expertise in a cuisine that I scarcely know, but that techniques seems to be what gives the pancit its special taste. It’s pancit bihon when you use rice noodles. If you use flour noodles–like lo mein noodles–it’s called pancit canton. Sometimes people make pancit with two kinds of noodles, but I think I like pancit bihon the best.
And so…feel free to change the quantity and variety of vegetables. Don’t omit the onions and garlic, but, beyond that, just try to include a cup each of three different vegetables of various colors and textures. Sugar snap peas or snow peas would be a good addition, as would bean sprouts if you like them (I don’t). You should also feel free to use leftover vegetables…just add them later in the cooking process so that they don’t get soggy. As with any stir-fry, the general rule is to put vegetables in the pan in descending order of cooking time: carrots toward the beginning; spinach at the end.
neutral cooking oil (corn or grapeseed)
1-16oz package rice vermicelli
1 cup red onions, diced very finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup carrots, shredded coarsely
1/2 cup celery, diced finely
1 cup cabbage, sliced into fine ribbons
1 cup green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (optional)
soy sauce and oyster sauce (oyster sauce is optional, but tasty; add a pinch of sugar if you use only soy sauce)
fresh cilantro, lime wedges (optional)
several cups broth (chicken if using chicken; vegetable if vegetarian)
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high until a drop of water sizzles
- Pour over several teaspoons of cooking oil, swirl to coat the pan, and add onions. Cook and stir until onions are just starting to brown. Then add carrots and celery, stirring often.
- When carrots and celery are just starting to soften, add green beans and cabbage and garlic and stir continuously until vegetables are nearly cooked through but not soggy. Add meat if using.
- Remove vegetables and meat to a different pot or bowl and pour two cups of broth into the hot skillet, scraping the bottom carefully to loosen browned bits. Stir in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce.
- Break the rice vermicelli into the hot broth and cover, stirring occasionally, until noodles are cooked through (5-10) minutes. You may need to add more broth.
- When noodles are cooked through and broth has been absorbed, add vegetables/chicken back to the skillet and toss together. Taste, adding more soy sauce, oyster sauce, or salt as needed.
- Garnish with optional chopped fresh cilantro and serve with lime wedges.