Along with just about everyone who is interested in Sichuan food, we in Gourmandistan are fans of dan dan noodles. This classic dish usually calls for pork and some sort of Chinese noodle or ramen. Our current home version uses neither, and we’re mostly quite happy about it.
Our pork-free, pasta-using version started with some surplus ground beef, which Michelle thought of using for dan dan after seeing such a version in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty credited to someone named Xie Laoban. Our first round featured Chinese-style noodles, but we found them disappointingly pasty and dull, their blandness absorbing the tongue-numbing sauce by turning a dismal grey. Steve suggested a second attempt using fresh pasta (Steve is always ready to make fresh pasta), but Michelle thought dried spaghetti might make a better choice. Buying some more ground beef, she once again mixed the Sichuan pepper, sesame paste, soy sauce and other good things as Steve (somewhat dispiritedly) prepared the pasta according to the directions on the box. Bringing Italy into Asia proved quite pleasant, as the sturdy, al dente spaghetti swam in the sauce and meat without becoming over-soaked like its Chinese cousin.
As an accompaniment Michelle made a selection of simple pickles from Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook, a volume we possess but commonly avoid due to its astonishingly ass-pain-y recipes. These delightful chili-laced carrots didn’t call for Tropp’s usual array of pre-made sauces, spice mixes and other troublesome stuff, nor did an an incredibly easy dish of thinly sliced purple cabbage tossed with a bit of pickled ginger and its pickling liquid then topped with toasted sesame seeds.
Someday we may make dan dan noodles with pork, and may try to find some Chinese noodles that don’t suck (up all the sauce). For now, some cow and a box of spaghetti will certainly serve.
DAN DAN NOODLES
(adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty)
- 1 tsp. ground roasted Sichuan pepper*
- pinch of salt
- 1 TB + 1 tsp. Chinese sesame paste
- 2 TB soy sauce
- 2 TB chili oil with chili flakes
- 1 TB peanut oil
- 3 dried chili peppers, seeds discarded, and chopped
- 1/2 tsp. whole Sichuan pepper
- 2 TB ya cai (preserved mustard greens), minced
- 8 oz. ground beef
- 1 TB soy sauce
- 12 oz. dried spaghetti or Chinese noodles
- Chopped scallions for garnish
Put a large pot of water on to boil.
Mix sauce ingredients together in a large bowl.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add chilies and Sichuan pepper and fry, tossing, for a minute or so. Add ya cai, tossing until heated. Then add meat, breaking up with a spatula as it cooks. Add soy sauce. Stir-fry until the meat is fully cooked and crispy. Set aside.
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and put in bowl containing the sauce. Toss, adding some cooking water to thin out the sauce a bit. Top with meat mixture and toss again.
Garnish servings with chopped scallions.
*Stir-fry Sichuan peppercorns in a dry wok or skillet over low heat, tossing until the husks are fragrant (about 5 minutes), being careful not to burn them. Cool. Then, grind in a spice grinder or mini food processor.
(adapted from Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook) Place carrots in a bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand for a minute, then drain and plunge into cold water. Drain. Combine ginger, chili, vinegars, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add carrots, stir and remove from heat. Add orange zest. Transfer to a storage container and let cool at room temperature. Then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving.
(adapted from Barbara Tropp’s China Moon Cookbook)
Place carrots in a bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand for a minute, then drain and plunge into cold water. Drain.
Combine ginger, chili, vinegars, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add carrots, stir and remove from heat. Add orange zest.
Transfer to a storage container and let cool at room temperature. Then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving.