Whenever I eat out at a Sichuan restaurant, one of my favorite dishes to order is dan dan noodles. It's one of those quintessential Sichuan dishes, a very rustic and simple dish that's also packed with flavor.
Traditionally, the sauce for the noodles is made with ground pork or beef, cooked with a delicious blend of sesame paste, sesame oil, dark vinegar, chili oil, and Sichuan pepper. But every once in a while, I like to do a vegetarian version using smoked tofu and shiitake mushrooms. And this is not a dish just for vegetarians; the mixture of the the smoked tofu and shiitakes has so much satisfying meaty flavor you'd hardly miss the meat at all.
In Sichuan province, if you were to order dan dan noodles at a restaurant, the noodles would be swimming in a pool of red oil. My version is much more bearable for anyone who didn't grow up eating scorching food for every meal, while still maintaining the deep spicy flavor. I like to use about 2 to 3 tablespoons of chili oil for this recipe, but feel free to start out with less and adjust the spiciness level as you go along!
Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles
Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 8 ounces smoked tofu, finely chopped
- 8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 2 scallions, white and green parts chopped
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or salt to taste
- 1 handful dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon Chinese sesame paste or tahini
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black rice vinegar, or substitute good quality balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons chili oil (adjust according to your tolerance of spiciness)
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes, until softened. Drain the shiitakes and squeeze out the excess water. Finely chop them and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain the noodles, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Transfer the noodles to a serving dish.
- Prepare the sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, soy sauce, sesame paste, vinegar, chili oil, sesame oil, sugar, and Sichuan pepper. Pour half of the sauce over the noodles and toss so the sauce is evenly distributed. Set aside.
- Heat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the garlic, ginger, and scallion whites and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chopped mushrooms and smoked tofu and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining half of the sauce. Adjust the seasoning with salt if desired.
- Spoon the tofu and mushroom mixture over the noodles, sprinkle the chopped scallions greens and chopped peanuts on top, and serve.