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A simple Thai dish that makes a big impressionPublished September 6, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Amid the flamboyantly garnished and highly aromatic dishes we associate with Thai cuisine, this one looks like plain Jane. It’s an unassuming bowl of slippery noodles sprinkled with crispy pork and crushed peanuts. However, one spicy-tangy-sweet forkful is all it will take to fall in love.
Since I first tried it in a restaurant, I’ve become obsessed with this Thai noodle dish. Its official name is yum woon sen, and it encapsulates much of what I love about Thai cuisine. The fresh flavor of just-squeezed limes, a balance of crunchy and chewy, pungent fish sauce, and just enough heat to set your tongue tingling.
The dish is actually quite elegant in its simplicity. The seasoned noodles are the real star, with the crispy pork and other ingredients just there to play back up. It is usually served cold or room temperature, and many versions include either dried or whole cooked shrimp to make it a more substantial meal. I chose to leave the shrimp out of my dish, but feel free to add them if you like.
If you have never cooked with them before, glass noodles require a little explanation. You will find them in Asian supermarkets labeled as glass noodles, mung-bean noodles, bean threads, saifun or any combination of those names. They are made from mung-bean starch and become transparent when cooked. They’re not hard to work with — just soak in hot water and then cook in boiling water for a few minutes — but I always find their stretchiness right out of the pot to be a bit surprising. Once cool, they become much more tender. I also usually cut them a few times with kitchen shears to make the long noodles easier to eat.
If you’re a fan of Thai food, you will love Yum Woon Sen. It just goes to show that sometimes the simplest dishes make the biggest statement.
Spicy Glass Noodles With Crispy Pork (Yum Woon Sen)
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 pound ground pork
1 (6-ounce) package glass noodles (bean threads/saifun)
3 green onions, sliced into thin rounds
2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
1 bird’s eye chili, ribs and seeds removed, minced (substitute 1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes)
2 tablespoons peanuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)
Extra chopped peanuts for garnishing
Warm a teaspoon of canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to break the pork into tiny crumbles. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring less frequently, until the pork turns deeply golden and crispy. Set aside.
While the pork is cooking, set the noodles in a bowl and cover them with hot water to soak. Let them sit until softened, about 10 minutes or until the pork has finished cooking.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop in the noodles and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the noodles are stretchy and tender. Drain and rinse under cool water. Use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the mass of noodles 3 or 4 times: this makes the long noodles easier to eat.
Combine the noodles, pork, green onions, cilantro, chili and peanuts in a large bowl. Whisk together the soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice in a small bowl. Taste and add more of any of the ingredients as needed, and then pour the sauce over the noodles. Use tongs or clean hands to lift the noodles, fold them over, and gradually work the ingredients into the noodles. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving or refrigerate until serving. Garnish each dish with extra peanuts.
This dish is best on the day that it is made. For serving leftovers, make an extra batch of the sauce and add it to the noodles a few teaspoons a time, stirring the noodles until they loosen and become slippery again.
Emma Christensen is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.