In the summer, I welcome any noodle dish that doesn’t require setting a pot of water to boil. I found one in Cameron Stauch’s new book, “Vegetarian Viet Nam” (W.W. Norton, 2018) that does even more: It uses a sauce made from fresh turmeric, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar to give rice vermicelli noodles a gorgeous golden hue and a deep, savory flavor.
My previous experience with vermicelli noodles had been limited to cooking them for spring rolls. And I was always frustrated that they became so sticky and difficult to work with when I followed package directions — boiling water, plunking in the noodles, turning off the heat. As a chef who lived in Vietnam when his wife was a diplomat there, Stauch clearly knows that these noodles can overcook too quickly that way.
Instead, he has you soak the noodles in hot — not boiling, or even just off-the-boil — water. It can take up to 20 minutes for them to get pliable, but because the water has cooled down by that point, they can continue sitting in it while you do other things. By the time they go in the pan and cook briefly with the sauce (along with marinated tofu, mushrooms, scallions and a chile pepper), they’re perfect.
Stauch’s recipe also showcases turmeric, which you can find in its fresh state near the ginger in Asian markets and at well-stocked grocery stores. It resembles ginger, too, “but with thinner, nubbier ‘fingers,’ ” he writes. It’s worth trying to find the fresh stuff for its superior flavor, but the recipe works beautifully with ground turmeric, too.
Use fresh turmeric and Chinese chives for this if possible; find both in well-stocked grocery stores and Asian markets. If you can’t find fresh turmeric, you can use the ground spice.
Either way, know that turmeric will stain, so wear an apron and use a nonporous cutting board and utensils.
Adapted from “Vegetarian Viet Nam,” by Cameron Stauch (W.W. Norton, 2018).
8 ounces dried rice vermicelli noodles
4 ounces firm tofu, sliced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
½ teaspoon plus a couple pinches sugar
2 tablespoons peeled and coarsely chopped fresh turmeric (may substitute 2 teaspoons ground turmeric)
1 to 2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 ounces oyster or button mushrooms, cut into bite-size pieces (1 cup)
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ jalapeño chile pepper, thinly sliced (not seeded)
½ cup Chinese chives, cut into 1½ -inch pieces (may substitute the green parts of scallions plus 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with hot water; let them soak for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft and pliable. Drain.
Meanwhile, to press the tofu, wrap it in paper towels, set it on a plate and set another small plate on top. Add a can of tomatoes or another weight to the top plate. Let the tofu sit for 20 minutes, then unwrap and discard the excess liquid.
Whisk together 2 teaspoons of the soy sauce or tamari and a pinch of sugar in a medium bowl. Add the pressed tofu and turn to coat evenly.
Combine the fresh turmeric, 1 tablespoon of the water, ½ teaspoon sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt in a blender; puree to a paste (alternatively, you can break down the mixture with a mortar and pestle). If you are using ground turmeric, mix it with the sugar, salt and 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl.
Pour the oil into a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the tofu slices and stir-fry for a minute, until they start to brown. Add the mushrooms, diagonally cut scallions and jalapeño; stir-fry for 45 seconds to 1 minute, until the mushrooms soften.
Stir in the turmeric paste and cook for 20 seconds, then toss in the chives (or the additional scallions and garlic) and stir-fry for another 20 to 30 seconds.
Stir in the drained noodles, the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce or tamari, a pinch of sugar and the black pepper. Toss until the noodles are evenly colored, untangled and just heated through. (If any of the ingredients start to stick, add a little splash of hot water.)
Transfer to a platter or divide among dinner plates, and serve hot.
More summery vegetarian recipes from Food: