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For Super-Light Noodles, Rice Is Super

Rice noodles, popular across Southeast Asia to southern China, are essential to many dishes, including savory-sweet pad thai, slurpy Vietnamese phô, and curry-flavored Singapore noodles. Sold now in many American supermarkets, they are easy to use in flavorful one-dish meals like Thai Rice Noodle Soup with Shrimp.

This light pasta is made from rice ground into a fine flour, mixed with water and slowly dried. It contains no wheat, gluten, eggs, cholesterol, or fat. Because they are already cooked, you need only soak rice noodles in hot water until soft before using them.

These not-quite-white noodles, brittle and translucent, come folded into skeins and in different thicknesses, from angel hair-fine vermicelli, used in soups, and wider, linguini-flat rice sticks used both in soups and stir-fries, to fettucini-width noodles for stir-fries. In ethnic markets, you may see them called mai fun or bùnh, depending on their thickness and the country in which they were produced.

To prepare rice noodles, first place them in a plastic bag and separate off the amount you want to use. This prevents bits of dried noodles from scattering as you break them apart. Allow one to two ounces for each serving of soups and salads, and three ounces for every serving of a main entrée.

Traditionally, rice noodles are soaked in cold water until soft, at least an hour, then drained and plunged into boiling water.

Today, many cooks just cover them with boiling water in a bowl and soak the noodles until soft and tender, three to 10 minutes, depending on their thickness. Always rinse the softened noodles under cold water before using. This washes away the starch that makes noodles stick together and turns soups and sauces cloudy. To reduce clumping. leave the reconstituted noodles moist if you are not using them immediately. If desired, use scissors to cut long noodles after soaking , so they are easier to eat.

Thai Rice Noodle Soup with Shrimp - Makes 8 servings.

  • 4 oz. dried rice noodles, broken in half
  • 4 slices fresh ginger, scored with a knife
  • 2-inch piece fresh lemongrass, halved lengthwise and mashed flat with a knife*
  • 1/2-1 tsp. Thai red curry paste, or to taste
  • 8 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 small red onion, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
  • 8 large cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 16 raw medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 cup canned straw mushrooms, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce or fish sauce
  • 2 fresh limes, one juiced, one cut into 4 wedges
  • 8-12 thin slices red chili pepper, or to taste

Place the noodles in a large bowl. Pour in boiling water to cover and let soak just until pliable. Drain in a sieve and set aside.

Place ginger slices, lemongrass (if using), curry paste and broth in a deep saucepan. Bring it a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add the onion and simmer until almost tender. Add tomatoes and shrimp. Simmer just until shrimp turn pink. Add the mushrooms, soy or fish sauce, lime juice, noodles and chili pepper.

Remove from heat and cover. Let stand until the noodles and mushrooms are heated through. Remove ginger and lemongrass. Serve garnished with lime wedges.

* If whole, fresh lemongrass is not available, omit it. Do not use packaged, cut-up lemongrass or the powdered form.

Per serving: 87 calories, less than 1 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat), 15 g. carbohydrate, 6 g. protein, 1 g. dietary fiber, 760 mg. sodium.


“Something Different” is written for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) by Dana Jacobi, author of The Joy of Soy and recipe creator for AICR’s Stopping Cancer Before It Starts.