Ants Climbing a Tree (Ground Veal with Transparent Noodles)

Every since my China trip, I've been attempting to replicate a few of the dishes enjoyed there.   The names of the dishes may be a little unusual, but definitely memorable.  This is my version of an amazing Szechuan ground meat dish:


The names of Chinese dishes can be very imaginative.   This version of the Szechuan dish translates to "Ants Climbing a Tree,"  and sometimes "Ants Climbing a Log,"  which might explain the restaurant served it in a carved wooden bowl:

Presentation is very important.  So is lighting and focus.
Some day I might be able to do some of them.

My now-adult children were very picky eaters as kids.  The boys wouldn't touch foods with normal names.  But give them (the food, not the kids) outrageous nicknames, and they (the kids, not the food) would shovel it all in and lick the bowl clean.  For example, middleChild never met a vegetable he liked ... until I started  calling broccoli Little Trees, and peas Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Balls.  Boys can be interesting.

So if the title is still leaving you a bit squeamish  ... you know that vermicelli pasta you enjoy now and then?  Did you know "vermicelli" is Italian for "little worms?"  If you can handle worms (so to speak), ants are no big deal. 


Speaking of vermicelli, the very thin transparent noodles are also known as cellophane or glass noodles due to their resemblance to all of the above.  They are made from mung bean or another veggie starch.  If you are gluten-sensitive, look for packages marked gluten-free.


My version contains sliced shiitake mushrooms, rather than diced, just to avoid a step.  So of course I added back a step when tossing in a more unusual mushroom.

Enokis are packaged in a clump.  Chop off the root end, then
separate the slender thread-like mushrooms as best you can.

The restaurant version did not contain enoki mushrooms, but it's in mine.  Heresy?  Maybe.  Delicious?  Definitely!


Ants Climbing a Tree
Adapted from: About Food
Yield: 4 servings
Note:  ground beef can be used in place of the ground veal

1/2 pkg. (about 2 ozs.)  transparent noodles
boiling water
1/2 pkg. (about 1/2 oz.)  dried sliced Shiitake mushrooms
1 lb. ground veal
1/8 cup soy sauce (gluten-free if needed)
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
1 Tbl. chili sauce  (use 1/2 Tbl. for medium-spicy)
2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 pkg. enoki mushrooms (optional), root end removed
2 scallions, green parts cut into 1-inch pieces


Place noodles in a large bowl.  Pour boiling water over to cover for 5 minutes or until noodles soften. Drain well. Use scissors to cut noodles into shorter lengths.  Set aside.

Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in boiling water as well, until reconstituted. Drain, reserving a 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid; discard the rest of the liquid.

Place ground veal in a mixing bowl, breaking up large pieces with a fork.  Whisk soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil together; pour over the veal.  Stir to mix, then sprinkle cornstarch over the mixture.  Set aside for 10-15 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the veggie oil and count to 10. Add the veal mixture, then stir-fry until the veal is just slightly undercooked (parts are still pink). Transfer to a covered dish and keep warm. Wipe grease out of skillet.

Add  remaining oil to the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the reconstituted mushrooms and chili sauce.  Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add noodles. Continue to stir-fry for a few minutes to heat the noodles, then stir in the reserved mushroom soaking liquid. Return the ground veal to the skillet and stir-fry until reheated and cooked through. Stir in the enoki mushrooms (if using),  separating the mushrooms as best you can.  Sprinkle in the scallions and give a final stir.


Serve immediately.

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