When life gives you lemons…

Finished dish

There are times when despite being surrounded by fresh, new produce, I end up having to cook something to use up whatever I have in the house – Even though it’s not something I particularly craved or fancied. A recent example of this was when a cousin stopped by and foisted pretty much a shopping trolley full of fresh produce to us. I mean, it was extremely generous of her but it meant that my fridge was literally full to bursting – especially as she also brought with her some food from her takeaway and I had my normal food shop to get through too. So, I found myself having to think of ways to use up all the ingredients before they went off, which in itself was interesting as it also meant having to eat up the food as quickly as possible to make room in the fridge. They may not necessarily be recipes or dishes to set the world on fire or your tastebuds flowing, but they’re recipes which are useful to have in your repertoire as something you can always fall back on.

OK, so I was given a whole roast chicken and about 10 (prepared) heads of iceberg lettuce. I was going to do something from my childhood and warm though the chicken, blanch the iceberg and mix with oyster sauce then serve both with some plain rice but I quickly realised that it wouldn’t be using the iceberg quickly enough. So, I resolved to make fried rice as it’s something the Mothership would also eat. Of course, it would mean that there was more iceberg in the fried rice than actual rice grains or chicken, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my house. And well, I needed to use up the iceberg. I think I ate fried rice for about 3 days after that batch.

I also had a load of courgettes to use up and rather than make a vat of Courgette Provençal which would then sit in the fridge and rather like the fried rice, would end up with me eating it for about a week afterwards, I decided to use it in a stir fry on top of some noodles.

Firstly, the noodles. You can get them from supermarkets these days but you want a fine egg noodle – a rice vermicelli is too delicate for this dish. I soaked the noodles in some hot water for about 20mins until the noodles had softened and separated. Drain, then set aside to dry – The last thing you want when you cook them is a wet noodle.

Noodles packet

Noodles soaking DSC_7449

Whilst the noodles are draining, you can get started on the ingredients for the stir fry; I had already marinated the pork by slicing it, then adding some salt, ground white pepper, light soy sauce, cornflour, oil and mixing everything together before covering and leaving to marinate (for at least 20mins). The onions (just to add a bit of textural crunch) were peeled and sliced and the courgettes were peeled to form a stripe effect and sliced on a slight diagonal. I also peeled and roughly chopped some garlic as well as slicing some ginger. Finally, I had some cornflour slaked with a bit of soy sauce and water to thicken the sauce later. I boiled some water in the wok and blanched the pork before draining and keeping aside until ready to cook, the pork doesn’t need to be cooked through, btw.

Marinated Pork Sliced onions Sliced courgettes garlic and ginger Velveting the pork drained pork

With all the ingredients now prepped, the noodles should be dry enough for you to cook; heat some oil in a wok until it’s fiercely hot and smoking, give it a couple of more minutes to be extra sure it’s hot, then add the noodles to the hot work and lower the heat to a medium-high flame. This is why you need to make sure that the noodles are completely dry, otherwise you risk harming yourself from the splatter of hot oil if you added wet noodles to it. Spread the noodles out so that it covers as much of the wok as possible in a fairly thin layer, but most importantly, do NOT move the noodles around as if to stir fry them, the idea is that you want a crisp layer of noodles on the outside. With that in mind, only swivel the noodles in the wok so that you can even distribute the heat to the noodles and thus creating that all important crust. You turn the heat down so to avoid burning the noodles (like I did) – You want a crisp brown crust but not black. In this case, the centre was black but only the outer layer so it could easily be broken off. Once the base of the noodles are nicely crispy and brown (you can also tell by how it makes a crisp sound a bit like sanding down wood as you swivel the noodles in the work and the noodles on top go slightly opaque instead of bright yellow to show they’re cooked), flip over and repeat the same process for the other side. The second side should take less time but once the noodles are ready, transfer to a plate or whatever you’re using to serve in and keep in a warm place whilst you get on with the stir fry. Oh, and there’s no need to season the noodles – I’ll tell you why later.

Hot wok! Cooking the noodles.. Cooking the noodles.. Ooops! a bit black..

Heat some oil in the wok again – If the wok was hot enough and the noodles dry enough when you were cooking them, nothing would have stuck to the wok so there shouldn’t be any residue. If there is, then clean it so you have a clear wok to cook the stir fry. Add the ginger and garlic then add the onions before stir frying everything for a minute or two so that the edges begin to cook. (I made a mistake in faffing about taking pictures and left the garlic and ginger in the pan a bit too long so the garlic had begun too brown by the time I added the onions, but unless you’re intending to take step-by-step photos and put them into a blog post like I have, then you shouldn’t have this problem). Now add the pork and fry the mixture together for a couple of minutes before finally adding the courgettes and again, stir frying for a couple of minutes. Now season lightly with a touch of salt – You don’t want too much as the meat is already seasoned and you may be adding some soy sauce with the cornflour later. I usually add a touch of ground white pepper to the mix too before adding some water and covering with a lid. Leave the mixture to cook for about 5 minutes or so until the courgettes have nearly cooked through.

mix.. mix well.. add pork.. add courgettes mix again (again) add water

Once that’s done, taste to check the seasoning – In this case, I didn’t need any more seasoning so I got rid of the soy sauce and just slaked some water with the cornflour before adding to the sauce to thicken. I finished off with a bit of sesame oil and plated on top of the noodles.

thickened with cornflour DSC_7499

So that’s it, the noodles will soak up the sauce (which is why I didn’t season it when cooking earlier) and there should be a textural crunch to go with the soft courgettes. Personally, I like to slather it chilli sauce or sriracha to add a bit of fire and whilst it wasn’t perfect (I ended up picking out the blacker parts of the noodles), it was a nice way to use up ingredients rather than let it waste away and the Mothership will also eat it. As the saying goes: “When life gives you lemons.. Make lemonade.” Or in this case, when your cousin gives you a lot of fresh veg…

Add liberal amounts of Sriracha...

The full set of photos can be viewed on Flickr

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