Today on New Year’s Day, a group of my students from Sha’anxi province came over to cook mashi (pronounced mah-shihr). Mashi are the small shell-shaped rolled pasta from Sha’anxi. I had visited all of these students last summer on my travels, and since then we sometimes get together to cook northwestern Chinese dishes.
Mashi come from Sha’anxi province in northwest China, where the cuisine revolves around wheat dough. Most Chinese noodles are long and either pulled or cut. Mashi are the Chinese equivalent of short Italian pasta shapes like capunti or orecchiette. I’ve only seen mashi offered in restaurants in Sha’anxi and neighboring Ningxia. When I visit Sha’anxi-style restaurants in Nanjing and ask for mashi, they always laugh at me because they don’t make it. It’s not a famous food, and it’s usually considered homecooking. In fact, my students today said they felt like they were home.
To make mashi, start by making a stiff dough of flour and water. It should be a little stiffer than noodle dough. If the dough is too soft, the mashi will fall apart or lose their shape when boiled.
After kneading for several minutes, let the dough rest. My students covered the dough with a bowl and let it rest about 30 minutes.
After resting, the dough should be smooth and glossy.
Mashi are traditionally rolled on baskets to create texture. My sorghum stalk boards from Shandong province are intended for holding dumplings without letting them stick, but today these boards also worked perfectly for rolling mashi.
Rolling mashi is easy. Take a marble-sized piece of dough. Use your thumb to roll it across the board. This will create a lined pattern. You can roll along or against the line of board. I soon decided I preferred rolling them along the diagonal to create diagonal stripes.
Boil the mashi in a large pot of water for about 10 minutes. You can either enjoy them in soup or stir-fried. Today my students made a soup for them.
To make the soup, my students started by stir-frying several vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, and shitake mushrooms, along with a good deal of ginger, garlic, leeks, and Sichuan peppercorns. They stir-fried the veg before we boiled the mashi. Once the mashi were finished boiling, they ladled the stir-fried vegetables into the pot of mashi and water. They also added handfuls of raw bok choy, soybean sprouts, and woodear mushrooms to quickly blanch into the soup. Because the liquid of the soup is the cooking water from the mashi, the soup is a little thick and starchy, which is supposed to be good for digestion. In fact, Chinese people often drink noodle-cooking water and dumpling-cooking water after meals to aid digestion.
Once all of the vegetables were combined with the mashi as a soup, my students added splashes of soy sauce and black vinegar. They also adjusted for salt.
We had seven around my tiny table today. There was extra black vinegar and chili sauce on the table.
Because mashi is made with a stiff dough, the end result has a pleasing dense, chewy texture. It makes a substantial vegetable soup for winter. Happy new year!