Have you ever wondered what makes Chinese food such perfect comfort food and so terribly popular around the world?! Forget the obvious spiciness, or the more notorious monosodium glutamate (taste enhancer) and grease factors. I think it’s the fact that it adapts so well to different palates around the world, using even limited ingredients to create all sorts of fusion recipes. Also Chinese meals are usually family friendly, economical meals.
Dan Dan Noodles are one such dish from Sichuan cuisine that has become extremely popular in the western world. I’ve even seen recipes that used tahini and peanut butter to create the same flavour base as traditional noodles have. Creative, right! But a little too far fetched for me. Finding authentic Chinese ingredients is not easy everywhere but some simpler replacements from your own kitchen can fix the problem.
Dan Dan or peddler’s noodles got their name from the long stick that held two baskets, containing noodles and sauce, carried over the shoulder by Chinese vendors in old days. The noodles are mainly dressed with a spicy sauce made with chilli oil, pickled vegetables, minced meat and scallions.
My vegetable Dan Dan noodles are a lighter version of the dish made with easily available ingredients in most kitchens without compromising the taste.
Making chilli oil at home is very easy and comes in handy as a supremely flavourful hot sauce for a number of dishes. I pickled some easy to find local vegetables, like cabbage, carrots and cucumbers. You replace bok choy with any of your favourite greens – spinach, Swiss chard, kale, beet greens, daikon greens, etc. The quantity of oil and red chillies seem scary in chilli oil but you don’t have to use all of it in one dish. Make once and save the rest to be used later for other Asian recipes or in place of any hot sauce. Only add as much as you can tolerate.
To create depth in soupy sauce, instead of ajinomoto or monosodium glutamate, I use the soaking water from shiitake mushrooms. You can save the water from boiling noodles to make the sauce in bowls. Make as much sauce as you like and make it as spicy as you like.
You will be amazed at the aromas rising from the steaming bowl and the flavours mingling right there in soupy sauce of vegetable Dan Dan noodles.
For Noodles Bowl
1 pack or 400 grams rice noodles
1/2 head bok choy or cabbage
1 cup shiitake mushrooms
3-4 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Salt to taste
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
Chopped coriander or cilantro
A few stalks spring onions or scallions
1/2 cup peanuts
For Chilli Oil
1 cup sesame or vegetable oil
5 teaspoons red chilli flakes
2 teaspoons red chilli powder
4 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 star anise
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppers or black peppercorns
2 curry leaves
1 inch piece ginger
2 scallions or Spring onions
Optional toppings – fried onions, braised beans, tofu fried egg.
This Is What You Do:
Roughly tear bok choy or cabbage leaves, cut carrots and cucumber into bite sized pieces. Soak them in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar and salt while you prepare other ingredients.
Soak shiitake mushrooms in 1+1/2 cup warm water. When the mushrooms are tender, roughly chop them. Save the soaking water.
To make chilli oil. Add red chilli powder and red chilli flakes to a small bowl. Set aside.
Add the remaining chilli oil ingredients to a small sauce pan. Simmer on very low heat for 5-6 minutes or till you can smell the amazing aroma of spices. Pour the tempered oil through a sieve over the red chillies in the bowl. Set aside.
Boil water in a deep pan. Cook noodles according to the instruction on the pack or till just done. DO NOT drain the water.
Now to assemble – in each serving bowl add a little minced ginger and garlic, a teaspoon of chilli oil, some pickled vegetables along with the pickling marinade (vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and salt mix) and chopped mushrooms with soaking water.
Add the noodles and ladle some hot noodle cooking soup too into the bowls.
Garnish with roasted peanuts, chopped Spring onions, coriander and more chilli oil if required.