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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lagman (Uzbek Lamb Noodle Soup)

Uzbek Lagman (Lamb Noodle Soup) 1

My first encounter with Lagman (Uzbek Lamb Noodle Soup) was at the now defunct Uzbekistan - Los Angeles. At the time, I dismissed it as a basic beef stew with similar Chinese noodles. Seven years later, after having explored other Central Asian cuisines, I hope I've become less cavalier of other cuisines in general, but of Central Asian cuisines in particular.

I try to place new cuisines into what's familiar, and would describe Uzbek and other Central Asian foods as a cross between Chinese Islamic and Middle Eastern cuisines. Which, if you think of the former, is already a confluence of two different cuisines.

If lagman seems familiar, that's because the word is derived from lamian (Chinese hand-pulled noodles). The Uzbek version is thicker, similar to Japanese udon, but much more tender. I stumbled upon a package of Shanghai home-style noodles at the grocery store, which looked so very homemade that I couldn't resist buying it so I could experiment. If you can't find Chinese hand-pulled noodles, then I'd suggest substituting with udon or even fettuccine.

Now, as for the lamb or beef stew portion of the soup, I knew there was an undefinable something that made Uzbek lagman stand apart. A little Googling and I found a lagman recipe from Bois de Jasmin that mentioned kala jeera (Indian black cumin). I debated whether to be lazy and substitute with regular cumin, but hauled myself off to Bhanu Indian Grocery & Cuisine - San Gabriel and luckily found a package in stock. One whiff of the smoky aroma and I knew it was worth the trip. No, regular cumin is not remotely similar to black cumin. I would omit it if you can't find any, but if you can, oh, does it add that something.

I find lamb to be quite gamey, unless it's rack of or thinly sliced for hot pot. So I used a combination of the latter with some venison my dad had shot. Regular beef is perfectly fine to use in this soup as well. The lagman I had at Varzoba Kafejnica - Riga - Latvia was described on the menu as a tomato soup, of which I had plenty from my garden. You can cut the vegetables into a thick julienne or dice them as I have. And lastly, as these are fresh noodles, don't add the noodle to the soup. Rather, boil the noodles separately, and spoon the stew over the soup.

I looked through my photos of the lagman I ate at Varzoba Kafejnica and was struck by the artful plating of the bright blue bowl atop a blue plate. Rummaged through my kitchen cabinets for something similar and I have to say the plating made my Uzbek lagman look so much more tempting, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mi Xao Toi Bo (Vietnamese Noodles with Garlic Butter) Maggi Seasoning Sauce

Mi Xao Toi Bo (Vietnamese Noodles with Garlic Butter) Maggi Seasoning Sauce 1

Shortly after getting back home, I was still thinking of the simple, but oh so good garlic noodles that I ate at Swamp - San Francisco. Years ago, when I first heard about Crustacean's garlic noodles, I quizzed my friend DP who had eaten there and asked her what she thought was in the dish. Garlic and butter were a given. The saltiness, could it be Maggi Seasoning Sauce, the not-so-secret favorite for Vietnamese kitchens? She said possibly, but it was creamy too, and suggested Parmesan cheese.

Since Crustacean is so expensive, I tried making a version at home and thought the garlic butter noodles were rather ho hum. But paired with Vietnamese Cajun seafood like I had at Swamp, or any other seafood dish with sauce, and the simple garlic butter noodles really shine through.