Jiggly, wiggly JELL-O is a staple of early American desserts, persisting to this day as a favorite of the young, the old, and the boozy reveler alike. Most associate it with sweet desserts, packaged in all sorts of fruity flavors, but it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, gelatin was traditionally a savory ingredient, featuring prominently in some questionable gelled salads, or for the upper class, aspics instead. Of course, there’s so much more to it than that, especially when you consider different plant-based gelling agents. Thus, whenever I see “Sichuan green bean jello” on a menu, I’ll always jump at the chance to place my order.
Better known as liangfen, it’s not actually made from JELL-O or any animal-based gelatin at all. More accurately, it’s typically made from the starch of either mung beans or green peas. It may come as a surprise when it arrives at the table in bright white, blocky rectangular lengths, stained red with chili oil, boasting a hint of green color only from scallions or celery leaves on top.
What are Liangfen, AKA Cold Jelly Noodles?
Slippery, with a short bite that’s much softer than a chewy wheat-based noodle, they’re very easy to eat, provided you can gently coax them onto your chopsticks. It can be tricky to pick up more than one strand at a time, especially if they’re slicked with a richly umami sauce. Consider them the tofu of noodles, being almost completely flavorless before soaking in a deeply flavorful sauce. Mala Sichuan peppercorns, black vinegar, pungent chopped garlic, toasted sesame seed, and red hot oil sizzling with chilies are all essential for this dish.
Make Your Own Liangfen
As a naturally, “accidentally” vegan noodle, there are plenty of excellent recipes online that need no modification. It’s incredibly easy to make and fully customizable to your tastes, in case you’d prefer a sauce with less heat or more acid.
Where Do Liangfen Come From?
Served cold, the contrasting heat of the spices is what makes it so addicting. Especially on hot summer days, it’s incredibly refreshing while making you sweat at the same time. Fittingly, the name liangfen translates to “cold starch” or “cool noodle” in English. Born some time within the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912,) it began life as a humble street food in the Sichuan province, spreading quickly to proper eateries and even fine dining restaurants.
Eat Liangfen For Your Health!
For the health-conscious, there’s a lot to love about this sleek, silky treat, too. Low in calories and fat, it’s also rich in fiber and quality carbohydrates, promoting digestive health and providing a sustainable source of plant-based energy. Since these noodles are made of starch instead of wheat, they’re gluten-free and free of all major allergens.
Upon first bite, the unique gelatinous texture, seeming to melt in your mouth, grabbing your attention as something far outside the realm of western culinary creations. The interplay of flavors is a symphony of sensations; the tangy vinegar dances with the umami soy sauce, while the chili oil adds a crescendo of heat. Altogether, it’s an extraordinary noodle that should be a prominent guest at your table, too.