Dan Dan Noodles

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I have written in a prior blog about my Sichuan ancestry and the spicy food that was a part of my upbringing. Dan Dan Noodles is a Sichuan street food that became well known all over China. Traditionally it is made with ground pork, but today I made it with 99% fat free ground turkey in an effort to curb our red meat consumption. It turned out to be absolutely delicious. I made it for lunch, but Peter asked me to make it again for dinner. I was watching a beautiful film called Five Days in Maine at the SF Film Festival when I received a text from Peter, “ These noodles are so fantastic that I can’t stop eating them.” 

This is a dish best made with fresh ramen, which gives it the extra chewiness and elasticity. I bought mine at a Chinese supermarket on Clement Street. It comes in a package of 2.2 pounds divided in 4 bundles.  Each bundle is about 2 servings. You can replace it with other noodles or pasta such as fettuccine if fresh ramen is not available.  

I usually make Dan Dan Noodles with a spicy pickled mustard called 榨菜 Zha Cai, but today I used a crunchy pickled lettuce that comes in a jar from the Chinese supermarket.  It adds flavor and crunch to the minced meat.

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Pickled Wo Sun, a Chinese lettuce stem

Dan Dan Noodles

Ingredients:

4 oz 99% fat free ground turkey or ground pork, beef, or chicken

1/3 cup Chinese pickled lettuce, chopped (Chinese market, see photo)

1 teaspoon pickle juice from the same jar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chopped green onion

1 teaspoon, grated or finely minced ginger

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1/2 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

8 to 9 oz fresh ramen noodles (Asian super market)

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons ground peanuts

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

sliced red chilies, sesame seeds & chopped green onion for garnish

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Sichuan peppercorn & chili

Ingredients for Chili Oil:

3 tablespoons oil

2 cloves crushed garlic

4 to 5 dried red chili, chopped or 2 teaspoons chili flakes (more if you like it very spicy)

1 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn 

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 heaping tablespoon tahini sauce

2 teaspoons dark sweet rice vinegar (Chinese market)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 coves garlic, peeled and very finely minced

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Preparation:

Mix the first 9 ingredients in a bowl, cover with saran wrap and set aside in the fridge.

Heap up the oil in a small pot on high. When the oil is piping hot, add the chili, Sichuan peppercorn and crushed garlic. Close the lid and turn off the stove. Let the oil sit on the stove for 5 minutes before filtering out the chili, peppercorn and garlic and keep only the oil in a bowl.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce with the chili oil. Set aside.

Boil a large pot of water to cook the noodle to el dente. Rinse in cold water and drain completely. (Fresh ramen cooks fast. Make sure you check the doneness often.)

Heap up 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Stir fry the minced meat mixture until done.

Mix the noodles, the chili oil sauce, the cooked minced meat together. Top with chopped green onion, chili flakes, sesame seeds. and serve with cucumber slices.  Mix about 3 tablespoons chili oil sauce with the noodles first and taste it before using the rest of the sauce just in case it’s too strong for you.

You can also mix the noodles with the chili oil sauce first. Separate into two serving bowls. Then top them with the cooked minced meat and the rest of the other goodies.

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Shanghainese Scallion Oil Ramen

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This deceptively simple Shanghainese noodle dish is delicious.  Even my husband Peter, a Cantonese man who usually calls Shanghainese cooking as dishes “drowned in brown sauce,” loved it and asked for seconds.

The aroma of the scallion oil brought me back to the little communal kitchen of my childhood.  Meat was rationed and we only got to eat tiny portions of it once or twice a week — almost always finely sliced and mixed with a lot of vegetables.  In those days, you didn’t get to pick which cut you got.  You just bought whichever piece the butcher from the government store gave you. Being a butcher was a highly coveted job — many people wanted to be your friends.  And he was not my friend.  I often got just a piece of fat that was almost impossible to cook into any dish.  That was when I would make the scallion oil noodles.  The lard from the pork fat was the best for making scallion oil.  And the crispy lard residue was perfect to sprinkle on top of the noodles. 

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A typical communal kitchen in Shanghai

I made the noodles because I had a sudden craving for my hometown dish, but if you like noodles you should give this easy dish a try.  You will be “Shanghaied” by its perfect umami taste.

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Shanghainese Scallion Oil Raman

Ingredients:

200g fresh ramen

1 1/2 to 2 tbsp canola oil

3 tbsp chopped scallion + 1 tsp scallion for garnish

1 1/2 to 2 tsp soy sauce

1 egg (beaten)

oil spray

sesame seeds and scallion to garnish

Preparation:

Cook the ramen in a large pot of water to al dente according to the package instruction.  Fresh noodles cook faster than dried ones, so be sure to check the doneness sooner.  Rinse the cooked ramen in cold water.  Drain and set aside.

In a sauce pan, heat the oil on medium.  When the oil is hot, add scallion and stir until it’s browned and crispy.

Spray a non-stick pan and heat on medium low.  Add the egg and made a crepe by swirling the pan.  When the egg crepe is cool.  Cut it into thin slices.

Mix the the scallion oil, soy sauce and egg with the ramen.  Garnish with sesame seeds, scallion and serve.

The fresh ramen that I bought is slightly salty, and I used 1 1/2 tsp of soy sauce.  You can use adjust the amount of soy sauce based on your own taste.

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Spring Cleaning & Ramen in Beef Broth

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I read about the phenomenal Japanese cleaning guru Marie Kondo on the Wall Street Journal and immediately bought her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I have been in dire need to declutter and am very fed up with my inability to organize. I’m not the kind to read self-help books, but my desperate situation calls for desperate measures. 

A few days ago, I talked to my brother about the troubles of an overabundant life.  We used to have two sets of clothes at any given time, and we changed clothes only because they needed washing. I remember that the first time I set foot in an American supermarket, I was both delighted and paralyzed by the dazzling variety of choices of shampoo.  It took me a long time to read about every product and finally decide on buying the cheapest brand.  My brother and I reminisced nostalgically about our frugal lifestyle with few possessions. 

For a Japanese book about tidying up and decluttering to become a international best seller, and for the author’s name to become a verb, the world must be full of clutter indeed. This is an age of clutter, both tangible and intangible.  Her theory is that once the tangible clutter is gone, the intangible ones will be taken care of as well.

After I read only 18% of the book, I felt somehow enlightened and emboldened to take a crack at organizing.  Kondo method begins with discarding — what a liberating thing to do.  After putting away eight trash bags of once loved or never used things, I felt lighter, happier and hopeful that finally I maybe able to learn to organize.

It was time to make some good old comfort food: ramen in beef stew and broth.  We cooked a pot of beef stew a couple of days ago. The leftovers were perfect for ramen in broth.

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Beef Shank & Beef tendon Stew with Carrots:

1 pound of beef shank, 2 tendons, or you can use just the beef and no tendon

1 brown onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 cup of spinach(optional)

1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes (optional)

1 cup of cooking wine

1/2 cup of soy sauce

1/2 cup of dark soy sauce

3 cups of water or beef broth

5 star anise

5 slices of ginger

1/4 teaspoon Chinese peppercorn (花椒)

1 tablespoons of oil

Preparation:

Cut the beef shank and tendon to 1and1/2 cubes.

Heat the oil in a wok on high, put in peppercorn and ginger.

Stir and let sizzle for about 30 seconds, add onion and stir until soft.

Mix in the beef shank and the tendon, stir for 3 minutes.

Add wine, soy sauce and water/broth.

Close lid and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours before adding the carrots.

Cook another 30 minutes.  Before serving, add spinach and cherry tomatoes.

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For the Ramen:

200g fresh ramen from Asian market

8 to 10 pieces of beef shank and beef tendon

Broth from the beef stew + beef broth if the stew does not have enough broth

2 teaspoon chopped green onion

Preparation:

Cook the ramen in a large pot of water according to package instruction.  In a separate pot heat up the beef and broth.  When the noodle is cooked to al dente, rinse it in cold water and separate into two serving in two bowls.  Pour the beef and broth over noodle.  Sprinkle chopped green onion and serve hot.

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