ATK Recipe #26: Mexican-Style Skillet Vermicelli

I had planned to make this recipe while our vegetarian guests were visiting, but after we finished off two batches of daiquiris we decided just to bring out the snacks and munch. So I made this on Monday for myself and my husband. It turned out to be a good thing, because it was such a near disaster that I’m glad no one saw me mess it up.

First of all I started by dicing the onion and garlic. After that I went to gather the rest of my ingredients: vermicelli, cumin, canned diced tomatoes, canned black beans, chipotle chile in adobo sauce, fresh cilantro, Jack cheese and vegetable broth…wait, where’s the vegetable broth? I was certain I had vegetable broth. I was sure that I checked to see if I had it and/or asked my husband to buy some. It was essential to making this recipe vegetarian friendly. Unfortunately I seem to have deleted the email with my grocery list so I can’t confirm if I asked him to buy it or not. (It’s important to accurately determine blame for such things.) So I ended up spending about twenty minutes searching the pantry and kitchen for vegetable broth, moving the same items over and over, convinced it would show up if I just looked hard enough. To my surprise I didn’t have chicken broth either. All I had was one package of beef broth with an expiration date in the middle of last year. So I was screwed. I kept frantically searching and panicking until my husband came home and I enlisted his help in searching the pantry yet again. He didn’t have any more luck than me, but he did have the brilliant idea to call his mom and borrow some from down the street. He went off to her house and returned with some chicken broth. Dinner was saved.

So I moved on to the next step: toasting the vermicelli in oil. It sounds simple enough. All you have to do, the book assured me, is heat oil in a large skillet, break the vermicelli in half, and toast for 5 minutes. In reality what happened is that when I tried to turn the noodles they turned into a demented haystack of brittle noodle poof that refused to move. The noodles on the bottom got brown and I couldn’t get them off the bottom because of the cage of noodles on top. All my struggles just kept breaking the noodles and causing them to jump out of the pan. Finally I gave up on the toasting before the browned noodles turned black and pulled the noodles out a little at a time with tongs. Meanwhile, my husband was laughing himself silly at my trouble and he got out the camera to document the mess.

toasted noodle explosion

Now imagine that explosion of noodles in a skillet and tell me if you could toss it. So I just moved on to cooking the onion and then adding all the rest of the ingredients to make a boiling soup. Then you add the noodles and cook. At this point I was more than a little frazzled, and I (once again) failed to accurately read all the directions. I missed the part that said to cover and simmer over low heat. I left it uncovered over medium heat. The vermicelli is meant to soak up all the flavorful liquid as it cooks (hence the traditional name sopa seca or “dry soup”). After about ten minutes I checked on the dish, to find that the bottom was burnt black and stuck to the skillet. Cause I’m an idiot. But I salvaged two serving off the top and sprinkling it with cheese as instructed.
Mexican Skillet Vermicelli

After all that, my expectations were not high. All I wanted was to be done with this recipe and never have to see it again. But the final result was…delicious. Really, really flavorful and delicious. It was subtly spicy and smoky and just yummy. My husband went back for a second bowl he liked it so much. As much as I didn’t want to deal with this again, I will definitely make it again. Probably soon, as soon as I get some more broth.

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