If you went to college with me, you must know that in times of homesickness and stress, my pining for my mom’s homemade pierogi was only every rivaled by my pining for Indian Mee Goreng–a noodle dish that has been perfected at Nyonya, an amazingly flavorful and very friendly-on-the-pursestrings restaurant in my native neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. It is a place where I am frequently confronted with dishes that I could eat just about all day, everyday–I have said that it would be difficult to choose between my mother’s cooking and Nyonya’s if ever I had to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life–even though I often have very little clue as to what I am actually eating at Nyonya’s. Of course, the menu makes it clear what protein is in most items, but when it comes to figuring out what spices are in Nyonya’s homestyle Malaysian dishes, I almost always draw a complete blank.
So imagine my delight when I found a recipe for not only a Malaysian dish, but my favorite Malaysian dish, in Ottlenghi’s Plenty. I should have figured–the man seems to read my mind. And yet, I could not bring myself to make it–what if it didn’t live up to my expectations? What if the flavors were nothing like Nyonya’s? I discovered that mee goreng translates to stir-fried noodles, of which I am sure there are about as many Malaysian variations as there are American variations of chili. Was I about to go down a rabbit hole of obscure-ingredient-seeking and perpetual disappointment in my renditions of my favorite dish?
I was crippled by fear and anxiety that I could not get it right, and for that reason, I tucked the recipe away, and contented myself with visiting Nyonya’s every few weeks instead. And yet, in the past few weeks, as I have found myself even more crippled by having to choose what graduate school I will attend next year, I was drawn to this recipe. I know it will not taste exactly the same, I told myself, but wouldn’t it be nice to know I could make something akin to my favorite restaurant meal at home? Wouldn’t that be comforting and reaffirm for me that there are some things in this world I am quite capable of figuring out?
So I braved it, and made my first attempt at homemade mee goreng. Was it everything I had hoped for? No. Did I indeed end up making it for several days in a row, altering the recipe each time in what seemed a never-ending quest for perfection? Yes. But I am happy to say, I have arrived at the ideal recipe for home-cooked comfort and flavor, and though it doesn’t taste much like Nyonya’s, I crave it just as much.
Adapted from Ottolenghi’s Plenty
Makes 2 servings
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
8 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick strips
4 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut in half
4 ounces bok choy, cut into large chunks
2-3 servings rice noodles, cooked and drained (Use your favorite, though I recommend thin rice noodles.)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (This is very similar to Sriracha, and can be found next to it in the grocery store.)
2 teaspoons thick soy sauce
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Mike’s hot honey (You can substitute 2 teaspoons of honey and a generous pinch of chili powder.)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon water
2 ounces bean sprouts
shallots, finely diced and fried in peanut oil
lemon wedges, to serve with
Place a large wok over high heat. Add the peanut oil, and once it has warmed up, add the onion. Cook for about two minutes to soften the onion, and add the tofu and green beans. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes–until the tofu is slightly golden brown.
Add the bok choy, and cook until it wilts. Add the noodles, spreading them over the whole wok so they get a good amount of heat. You want to almost let them fry. Mix, and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Finally, add the spices, sauces, sugar, honey, and water, as well as the bean sprouts. Mix well (but carefully not to break up the tofu), and cook for about 2 minutes, until everything is well incorporated.
Top with the fired shallots and lemon wedges.