Grains and veggies: the dynamic duo. Depending on the spices and sauces used, this cheap and easy-to-make pairing can emulate Mexican, Italian, Asian, or South American cuisine. It’s the ultimate kitchen hack - deceivingly simple, wildly customizable, and vegetarian (which means cheap!). Adding meat is always an option, but the endless possibilities of this filling combo will leave you more satisfied than you’d expect - even sans meat. My favorite, dressed up grain-and-veg dish? Drunken noodles (and no, that doesn’t just mean noodles and wine… although that’s certainly another dynamic duo I’ve come to appreciate in my life).
Drunken noodles are an alcohol-free, easy-to-make Thai food staple. There are several theories as to how the savory dish got its name: the use of rice wine in certain recipe variations, the hodge-podge of ingredients meant to be paired with drinking alcohol, or the fact that the noodles marinate in and “get drunk” off of the flavorful, spicy broth. Either way - this dish is for drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
Ordering Thai takeout is one of my biggest guilty pleasures, and quarantining and working from home has done nothing to stifle that craving. Even though I pride myself in being able to replicate (and vegetarian-ize) just about any takeout/fast food meal I’m hankering for, I’d always cop-out at the thought of making my own drunken noodles - maybe that restaurant just really was that good? Could I even get the ingredients I’d need from my regular grocery store, anyway? My curiosity could only simmer for so long until I had to take a stab at it myself.
It turns out, it’s way easier than I thought! The ingredients I was convinced I’d only find at a specialty food market - namely the fish sauces and rice noodles - were easy to find, albeit the options were limited to one or two types of each. So, in an effort to save a few pennies, I decided to dive into the world of fish sauces and rice noodles and make a version of my all-time favorite Thai dish from home. The best part? It only takes one saucepan, deep skillet, or wok. Saving money, hardly any dishes, and it’s vegetarian? The win-win-win of it all is almost too much.
Place rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with very hot tap water. Let noodles soak for no longer than 15 minutes (rice noodles can get soggy quick, and they’ll have more time to soften as they cook in the broth).
Add approx. 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet or wok over medium heat.
While the noodles are soaking and the oil is heating, slice the red onion and jalapeno peppers lengthwise. Mince garlic. Set aside.
Add frozen vegetables to wok and cook until slightly tender. Since the veggies will continue to cook in the broth, it’s okay if they’re not quite fork-tender yet - they just need to be thawed.
Drain your rice noodles using a colander or medium-sized strainer. Place back in large bowl and set aside.
Add enough vegetable stock to the wok to cover the veggies by ½-1”. Add onion, jalapeno, and garlic. Add chili garlic sauce, fish sauce, and/or liquid amino acids to taste. (Feel free to omit the chili paste if real spicy food isn’t your thing!)
Add rice noodles to broth and mix thoroughly. At this point, turn your heat up to medium-high and add black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.
Stir noodles often to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of your wok. Keep over heat until the noodles have absorbed the broth mixture.
As soon as the broth has been completely absorbed, remove from heat. Use tongs to serve. Add extra chili paste, red pepper flakes, or fish sauce as desired.
This recipe has three basic ingredients: noodles, veggies, and broth. From there, you can tailor this dish to match your exact tastes, including spice level, added protein, or extra flavors. Here are some ways to customize this dish and make it your very own:
To get the full restaurant experience without leaving your home, add a Thai spice rack to the table when serving. You can get a caddy like the one here, or gather four small bowls or cups and divvy up extra red pepper flakes or chili powder, fish sauce, chili garlic sauce, and/or pickled chilies.
Use fresh or dried herbs to add extra flavor. Add basil, thyme, or rosemary for an extra savory kick. Add dill, fennel, or Chinese five-spice powder (a combination of cinnamon, black pepper, star anise, fennel, and cloves) if you prefer a spicy and sweet flavor combination.
Add some extra protein with fried tofu, tempeh, beef, chicken, or shrimp. Prepare your protein as desired and add to the broth and veggie mixture at the same time as the rice noodles.
Opt for fresh! This recipe uses a frozen vegetable medley for convenience’s sake, but you can easily make your own using fresh broccoli, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, celery, and red bell peppers.