Dan Dan Noodles are a classic Chinese dish originating in the Sichuan province. Noodles have been part of Chinese cuisine for over 4,000 years. Long strands symbolize longevity, one of the nicest things you can wish for on the Lunar New Year, which happens on Feb. 16 this year.
Dan Dan Noodles are essentially long skinny noodles topped with a flavorful sauce built on ground pork and seasoned with pickled vegetables, chilis, soy sauce and a bit of Chinese wine and vinegar. This dish was originally a street food. The name Dan Dan refers to the pole on which street vendors in Sichuan would carry the pots of food: one for the noodles, another for the sauce.
A few of the ingredients might take a little work to find unless you live near a great Asian market. Seek them out if you want to approach authenticity, but otherwise use these easy substitutions: If you can’t find the Chinese black vinegar, substitute even parts of rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Really any vinegar would be fine, but that combo gives you the closest approximation. Dry sherry is a fine substitute for the rice wine.
If you have access to a great Asian market, or want to find a source online, then buy ya cai, zha cai or Tianjin dong cai, which is a preserved vegetable mix, or sometimes just pickled mustard root. It’s available in cans or jars. Otherwise jarred pickles work just fine.
There are many versions of this dish, as there are with any classic recipe. Some are brothier than others, some have peanut butter or sesame or ginger, or Szechuan peppercorns. Sichuan cooking is often quite spicy, and these noodles are no exception. If you’re feeling a little timid about the amount of chili paste, you can always dial it back a bit — these noodles definitely pack a kick.
DAN DAN NOODLES
Start to finish: 30 minutes
- 1/4 cup chili garlic paste
- 1/4 cup vegetable, peanut or canola oil
- 2 tablespoons Chinkiang or
Chinese Black vinegar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 scallions, minced
Pork and Noodles:
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1/4 cup chopped, jarred, Chinese pickled
vegetables or small diced pickles
- 1 cup roughly chopped arugula (optional)
- 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
(which might be called Shaoxing, or a
Japanese version is called Mirin), or use
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 16 ounces fresh Chinese wheat noodles or
8 ounces dried Chinese noodles, or
- 1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine the chili paste, 1/4 cup oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and minced scallions in a large bowl and stir to mix well.
3. Heat the 1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the pork and saute until browned, about 3 minutes. Drain if there is any liquid in the pan, then return to the pan. Stir in the preserved vegetables or pickles, arugula (if using) and the garlic, and cook for another minute. Add the rice wine and stir until it is evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the broth and bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.
4. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions (fresh usually take about half as long as dried). Drain.
5. Stir the sauce to re-combine, then add the noodles to the sauce and toss to coat. Add the pork mixture and toss again. Serve hot, in shallow bowls, sprinkled with the peanuts and sliced scallions.
Nutrition information per serving: 687 calories; 261 calories from fat; 29 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 76 mg cholesterol; 1628 mg sodium; 73 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 28 g protein.
I have been in possession recently of a very large can of Virginia peanuts, one of my favorite things to eat on earth. It’s foolish to pretend that a small handful will curb the peanut craving. But I do take out a small handful, put the lid back on, put the can away (Ha, the wishful thinking!) and crunch away. Then I take out the can again, remove another small handful, put the can away and eat those. Then I do it one more time. And maybe one more time.
All of this is to explain why I’d been craving a cleansing soup, a bracing soup, a soup that feels almost acerbic in nature. A soup that makes me feel a bit less guilty about pulling out that peanut can yet one more time. And while this soup is all of that, it’s also delicious, and doesn’t feel punishing in the slightest.
I think this recipe benefits from a very liberal hand with the peppermill, but that’s a personal preference. To make the soup more substantial, you can add a can of rinsed and drained white beans, such as navy or cannellini.
And now, maybe I’ll have one more small bowl.
ESCAROLE AND SPINACH SOUP
Servings: 8 to 10
Start to finish: 40 minutes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground
pepper to taste
- 4 cups roughly chopped escarole,
rinsed and excess water shaken off
- 4 cups less-sodium chicken or
- 1 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans,
rinsed and drained (optional)
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 10 ounces baby spinach leaves,
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve (optional)
Heat the oil in a heavy, large pot or Dutch oven at medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrot and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion is tender and golden brown, about 8 minutes.
Turn the heat to medium-high, add the escarole, and cook, stirring occasionally for 4 minutes, until the escarole is wilted. Add the broth, beans (if using) and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the escarole is tender, about 20 minutes.
Add the spinach and stir until the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes. Adjust the seasonings.
Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese if desired, and serve hot.
Nutrition information per serving: 109 calories; 29 calories from fat; 3 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 306 mg sodium; 15 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 6 g protein.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.