Why It Works
- Thin ribbons of blanched spinach are a great carrier for the flavorful sauce.
- A high proportion of noodles-to-vegetables adds flavor while cutting down on the amount of carbs.
There are many lessons I learned during my month-long Vegan Experience, but one of the most useful—and one that I still use all the time—is that you can make vastly tastier food by reversing the ratios in starch-based dishes. That is, rather than having pasta with sauce and vegetables, have vegetables with sauce and pasta. It's a trick that works well for Italian pasta dishes, but perhaps even better for Chinese and other Asian-style noodle dishes. Try out Bok Choy with Chives, Black Bean Sauce, and Chow Fun, for instance.
In this version of the classic Dan Dan Mian, I replace a good chunk of the noodles with blanched spinach that I wring dry then cut into thin, thin ribbons. In many ways, spinach ribbons are superior to noodles. The offer some flavor of their own, but they also pick up the chile oil and vinegar-based sauce perfectly, making every bite more flavorful.
The key to perfect sauce is to make your own chili oil. I tend to make mine in large batches so I'll always have some on hand, but you can make just as much as you need for this recipe. It's simple: just toast chiles (and Sichuan peppercorns if you'd like), add oil, and let it sit. You'll end up with something infinitely better than any bottled chili oil you might pick up.
The dish is hot, but the cold noodles help temper that heat. It's perfect fare for a hot late summer evening, and it comes together in about half an hour.
1 large bunch spinach, trimmed and washed (about 2 quarts spinach leaves)
1 tablespoon crushed red chiles, preferably Chinese
2 teaspoons toasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns, divided
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar (see note)
1 tablespoon fermented chile broad bean paste
2 teaspoons sugar
12 ounces fresh wheat noodles (see note)
1/4 cup toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped pickled mustard root (see note)
2 small fresh red chiles, sliced
1/4 cup sliced scallion greens
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add spinach and cook just until wilted, about 30 seconds. Remove with a strainer and run under cold water until chilled. Press out excess moisture, then wrap in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze to wring out water until spinach is dry and compressed. Roll the spinach into a tight ball and slice finely. Set aside.
Combine chiles and half of Sichuan peppercorns in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring often, until a toasted aroma starts coming from them, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add oil and cook until the oil starts to bubble slightly. Remove from heat and set aside until ready to use.
In a small bowl combine sesame seed oil, soy sauce, vinegar, broad bean paste, and sugar. Stir to combine.
Add noodles to boiling water and cook according to package directions until just cooked through. Transfer to a strainer and run under cold water until well chilled. Place noodles in a large serving bowl and add spinach. Add chile oil and soy sauce mixture and toss to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts, mustard roo, sliced chiles, scallion greens, and reserved Sichuan peppercorns. Serve immediately.
Chinkiang vinegar can be found in most Asian markets. Any kind of Chinese black vinegar can be used in its place. Pickled mustard root is found either in the refrigerated or canned goods section of most Asian markets. You can replace it with chopped cabbage kimchi if unavailable. Fresh wheat noodles can be found in most Asian grocers. If unavailable, six ounces of dried wheat noodles or even spaghetti will work fine.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 2 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 27g||34%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||17%|
|Total Carbohydrate 50g||18%|
|Dietary Fiber 14g||49%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 60mg||301%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|