Fuchsia Dunlop's Zhajiang Noodles (Zha Jiang Mian)


[Photograph: Chris Terry]

Noodles are eaten at least a couple times a week at my house. Usually they're not eaten with much grandeur—a brothy soup full of rice stick here, a quick veg-heavy sauce atop egg noodles there—but they're still a favorite easy dinner. Fuchsia Dunlop's Zhajiang Noodles from her new cookbook Every Grain of Rice were thus a welcome new dinner. The sauce is a thick, savory concoction of ground pork belly and sweet fermented sauce (tianmianjiang)—almost blindingly salty on its own, but mellowed when tossed with the mild wheat noodles and assorted blanched vegetables.

Why I picked this recipe: Looking for a one-dish noodle meal, I picked this vegetable-heavy dish because it used pork to enhance, rather than dominate the meal.

What worked: A warm bowl of noodles is hard to pass up, and these zhajiang noodles did not disappoint. Both rich from the pork and fresh from the copious vegetables, these noodles disappeared before I had a chance to think twice.

What didn't: My "generous" pour of water into the pork sauce was a bit too generous, so it took longer than 15 minutes to cook down to a thick consistency. 1 cup should be plenty.

Suggested tweaks: Dunlop offers a lot of choice in terms of vegetables. I used most of them, and found the end result a bit busy. Choose three or so from her list, and you'll be plenty happy. Should you want to make the dish totally vegetarian, you could substitute finely chopped mushrooms for the pork. Stir-fry them until they've released their liquid and fully browned before continuing with the sauce. I found sweet fermented sauce in the Asian section of my grocery store labeled simply "bean sauce." It should be dark in color and thick in texture, with wheat as a primary ingredient.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Every Grain of Rice to give away this week.