Dan-Dan Noodles

Dan-Dan Noodles

The opening of Soho restaurant Bone Daddies in 2012 reignited my love for ramen, something I had fallen in love with in Japan some years before.  The influx of ramen bars that followed has given me the means to pop out for a big steaming bowl of slurpy noodles pretty much whenever I want.  I am still struggling to see any negatives in this.

For me, the best thing about ramen (aside from the ubiquitous barely-cooked egg that sits on top) is the huge whack of creamy, nutty sesame paste that characterises the sauce.  So it was no surprise that a Chinese dish from the Sichuan region, Dan-Dan noodles, also heavy on the sesame, was going to be right up my street.

I first came across these noodles when watching BBC Two’s Exploring China with Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang.  I had visited a couple of different Sichuan restaurants in London but had never tried this dish.  This was quickly remedied after I bought the book:  I have made this dish so many times and it has quickly become one of my favourite ways to use tahini.

Ken Hom’s Dan-Dan noodles recipe is remarkably simple:  in very basic terms it is some fried pork mince, a sesame-based sauce and some noodles.  Almost all of the ingredients can be found in ordinary supermarkets if you aren’t lucky enough to have some good Asian supermarkets nearby (we have three in Peckham).  Do make sure that you buy proper Sichuan peppercorns before you make this recipe, and do not be tempted to substitute them with ordinary peppercorns.  Sichuan peppercorns have this wonderful numbing heat that makes the cuisine of this part of China so interesting.

Dan-Dan Noodles

225g minced pork
1 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tsp salt
225ml vegetable oil
350g dried medium egg noodles
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced lengthways

For the sauce
3 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
5 tbsp finely chopped spring onions
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp chilli oil
1 tsp salt
225ml chicken stock

In a small bowl, mix together the pork mince, soy sauce and salt.  Heat a wok over a high heat and add the oil.  Fry the pork in the oil, using a spatula to break up into small pieces.  When the pork is crispy, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.  Pour the oil into a separate bowl.

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions.

Return two tablespoons of oil back to the pain and reheat.  Add the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry for 30 seconds.  Add the tahini, soy sauce, chilli oil, salt and stock and simmer for five minutes.

Divide the drained noodles between individual bowls.  Ladle the sauce over the top of the noodles and pile on the fried pork.  Sprinkle over the Sichuan peppercorns and garnish with the red chilli.

Serves two.  Adapted from a recipe by Ken Hom.

One Year Ago:  Butternut Risotto

Vietnamese Prawn Vermicelli Noodle Salad

Vietnamese prawn and vermicelli noodle salad

Vietnamese prawn and vermicelli noodle salad

So it’s been a while, huh? 

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down to write and ended up putting it aside to write my thank you cards for the wedding presents.  Each time since there has been a similar distraction which has kept me away from this blog.  It isn’t that I haven’t been eating – far from it – more that other things have got in the way.  I think we all have this problem.

Yesterday I spent much of the day on the couch with a bad bout of asthma.  As is often the way when I feel sorry for myself, much of my sustenance came from the toaster and the biscuit tin.  When I finally mustered the energy to pop down to the local shops and buy myself some Lucozade (magical restorative potion of choice), I went past the greengrocers and realised that something had to change: I needed vegetables.

Although the temperature has dropped in London in the past few days, I find that I am still in love with the no-cook meals I have discovered during the recent heatwave.  After all, nobody wants to slave over an oven and a hob when it is in excess of 30 degrees.  There has been a lot of raw vegetable consumption in my household over the summer, and I have to confess that I am feeling all the better for it.

Asian salads are one of the best ways to eat raw vegetables as the punchy, spicy dressings are the perfect cure for the sometimes monotonous taste.  They usually consist of vegetables, and often fruit, shredded very finely and combined with noodles or beansprouts and often meat or fish.  The art of creating the perfect dressing is getting the balance of the four elements right: hot, salty, sweet and sour, the basis of a lot of Asian cookery.

This salad is a typical Asian medley of vegetables with vermicelli rice noodles and prawns.  Although it isn’t strictly a no-cook recipe, the few minutes spent stir frying the vermicelli noodles and beansprouts in a wok barely counts.  Using cooked prawns is the easy option, but you could cook your own if you wish.

Vietnamese Prawn and Vermicelli Noodle Salad
Serves 2-3; adapted from a recipe from taste.com.au

For the dressing
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
90ml lime juice
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

250g fresh vermicelli noodles
75g beansprouts
1 large carrot, cut into thin batons
1 cucumber, deseeded and cut into thin batons
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
300g cooked, peeled prawns
2 tbsp each of finely chopped mint, coriander and basil

Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl, whisk to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

Stir fry the vermicelli noodles and beansprouts according to packet instructions and then transfer to a large bowl.  Add the carrot, cucumber, chilli, prawns and herbs.  Pout over the dressing and toss to combine.

Stir Fried Squid with Ginger

Stir fried squid with ginger

Stir fried squid with ginger

I am finding being back in London a bit of a struggle.  Whilst it is something of a thrill being able to speak English to everybody, visiting favourite south-east London haunts and seeing comfortable old favourite London landmarks from the top deck of the number 12 bus, getting back into a regular routine is proving to be harder than I expected.  Getting up in the morning is by far the most difficult part, and I find myself needing several cups of coffee before I begin to feel normal.  By the evening, I am completely wiped out and good for no more than watching the Tour de France highlights and falling asleep on the couch.  I think it’s the sudden withdrawal of the lengthy afternoon naps I enjoyed on holiday.  Breakfast and dinner, as you can imagine, have suffered as a result.

Did I also mention that I am skint?  Whilst being a fairly cheap country in comparison to the rest of Europe, Spain will still put a dent in your wallet if you spend two weeks eating out and visiting local attractions.  All the more if you like wine.  If you like wine and gin, well, you can guess how this ends.

When on holiday, I have the best of intentions for my return home.  I will go to the market and buy lots of lovely fresh food and make wonderful, healthy dinners, I will exercise every day and will not eat chorizo with every meal.  I will not drink at lunchtime.  Of course, this is the guilt of eating chorizo with every meal and downing a couple of glasses of red before passing out on a lounger for an afternoon nap talking.  The reality is vastly different.  Tired and (albeit temporarily) poor, I want to sleep as much as possible and make meals that have inexpensive ingredients and take half an hour to make.  Tops.

Before going to Spain, I had the good sense to stock up the freezer which, considering how many errands I was running in those last few weeks, is nothing short of miraculous.  This included a £10 bag of frozen squid from my local fishmonger, Moxons.  Although I tend to only buy fresh or smoked fish, the frozen squid has proven itself on many occasions to be a godsend.  A bit short on a fish pie: defrost some squid.  Need a quick last-minute pasta: defrost some squid.  You get the idea.  Keeping a bag in the freezer means that in those cash-poor few days before pay day, you can make a decent meal without having to fork our your precious pennies on protein.

This squid stir fry is from a Thai food book that I picked up many years ago from a church fete book stall for about 50p.  I think it dates roughly from the early 2000s and I’m not sure how authentic it is, but there are a few gems in there, including some lemongrass pork on skewers that I have been meaning to try for a long time.  There are a lot of curries in there, but the stir fry recipes are the ones I struggled to resist.  This stir fry in particular is so simple and quick to make, and contains very few ingredients.  If you used dried noodles, you’re looking at ten minutes; if you use fresh noodles you can probably do it in less than five.  As well as the squid, the sauce is flavoured with a simple combination of garlic, ginger, soy, lime and sugar.  It is one of the few stir fry recipes I use that contain no chilli (although we tend to douse it in Sriracha afterwards), which is sometimes good to have on hand when you have houseguests that can’t handle the heat.

Stir Fried Squid with Ginger

3 nests noodles (I used Sharwood’s Medium Egg Noodles)
7 ready-prepared baby squid
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 inch piece of root ginger, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp granulated sugar
4 spring onions, finely sliced

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, drain and divide between the two bowls. 

Rinse the squid and pat dry with kitchen paper.  Cut the bodies into rings and halve the larger tentacles.

Heat the oil in a wok and cook the garlic for 30 seconds until golden brown, being careful not to let it burn. Add the squid and stir fry over a high heat for a further 30 seconds.

Add the soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, sugar and spring onions and stir fry for another 30 seconds.  Serve over the noodles.