In my experience, if you tangle vegetables in a mess of fried noodles, your kids will be much more likely to eat them. To that end, yaki udo is a family-friendly stir-fry that’s heavy on plants and fungi.
There are a couple shortcuts I lean on to make this recipe manageable on a busy Monday night. I’m sure there will be some purists who object to my methods, but I’m also fairly confident that those people don’t have three kids running amok in their house. First: frozen udon. You’ll find frozen blocks of cooked noodles in the freezer section of most Asian markets. Using frozen noodles means you don’t have to boil a pot of water to cook dried noodles. Second: the microwave. Nuking some of the vegetables for a few minutes will cut down your cooking time dramatically, and you honestly won’t notice a difference in taste.
Noodles and Vegetables
1 pound frozen udon
1/2 small head cabbage, cut into 2-inch squares
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
3 ounces shimeji (beech) or oyster mushrooms
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
8 ounces thinly sliced skinless pork belly or uncured bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 scallions, sliced lengthwise in half and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into matchsticks
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup tightly packed katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
For the noodles: Place the udon in a colander and run under hot water to defrost the noodles. Alternatively, put them in a bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Set aside while you prep the vegetables.
For the vegetables: Place the cabbage and carrot in a microwave-safe container and zap them for 2 minutes. If you’ve managed to locate some shimejis, cut off the bottoms and separate the mushrooms. If you’re using oyster mushrooms, give them a quick rinse and slice them into 1/2-inch-wide strips.
For the sauce: Stir all the ingredients together in a bowl; set aside.
Set a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the pork belly or bacon. Sauté until the meat is mostly cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the scallions and bell pepper and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Follow with the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Finally, add the microwave-softened cabbage and carrots and cook until you start to see some browning along the edges of the vegetables, 3 to 4 minutes more. Scoop the pork and vegetables into a bowl and set aside. Give the pan a quick wipe with a paper towel and return it to the stove.
Turn the heat up to high and coat the pan with the sesame oil. Add the udon and sauté until you begin to see some crisp edges on the noodles, about 2 minutes. Add the pork and vegetables and toss to combine. Add the sauce and toss to coat. Leave the pan on the heat for another minute to thicken the sauce, then fold in the katsuobushi and serve.
Recipe excerpted from The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider © 2019 by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying. Photography © 2019 by Aubrie Pick. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
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