Nagi Maehashi, who many of us know and love as Recipetin Eats, has become an Australian household name. She puts the “approachable” in every recipe, writing them in a way we can all decipher, and encouraging us to try new things.
This recipe – for the iconic Sichuan dan dan noodles – is a perfect example. It’s an intensely flavoured, spicy sesame chilli oil sauce tossed with noodles and pork. Don’t be intimidated – it’s really very easy. Prepare the sauce, chop the veggies, even fry the pork in advance, then cook the noodles just before serving so they’re piping hot. The idea is to toss the pork and sauce through the hot noodles to warm everything up. That’s the dan dan way.
Maehashi’s favourite brand of Chinese chilli paste in oil is Fuyun Xiang La Wang, which is sold at most Chinese grocers. Substitute with any Asian chilli paste (preferably in oil), or just add a glug of chilli oil to a plain chilli paste or sambal oelek.
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While the recipe is spicy, it’s not blow-your-head-off spicy. You can reduce the heat by using less chilli paste, Sichuan pepper and chilli oil (but the oil is a key part of dan dan noodles’ look, mouthfeel and flavour).
The recipe only uses a small amount of pork. It’s not supposed to be loaded with meat; it just needs a sprinkling. You can double the amount if you like, just make sure you double the hoisin mixture as well.
You can add more steamed Asian greens, such as broccoli (or gai lan), to make it a complete meal.
Nagi Maehashi’s dan dan noodles
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine or 2 tbsp chicken stock
½ tsp Chinese five spice
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
250g pork mince
60g (½ cup) sui mi ya cai (preserved mustard greens) or kimchi, finely sliced
500g fresh medium-thick white or egg noodles
16 choy sum stems, cut into 15cm pieces
70g (½ cup) toasted peanuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, roughly chopped
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
Dan dan sauce
2 tbsp Chinese sesame paste or tahini
1½ tbsp Chinese chilli paste in oil, to taste (see above)
60ml (¼ cup) light soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tsp white sugar
½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 heaped tsp Sichuan peppercorns, lightly toasted in dry pan and ground
60ml (¼ cup) chilli oil (preferably Chinese), or to taste
185ml (¾ cup) chicken or vegetable stock
To make the dan dan sauce, combine all the ingredients except the chilli oil and stock in a bowl. Gently stir in the chilli oil and stock, then set aside.
Place the hoisin sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine and five spice in a medium-size bowl and stir to combine.
Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork and cook, breaking it up as you go, until it changes from pink to white. Add the hoisin sauce mixture and cook for 1 minute, then transfer back to the same sauce bowl. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the remaining 2 tsp oil to the wok, then add the preserved mustard greens and stir for 30 seconds or until just warmed through. Remove from heat before it burns.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Just before you’re ready to serve, add the noodles and cook according to packet instructions. Add the choy sum in the last minute of cooking. Drain well.
Ladle the dan dan sauce into four bowls. Divide the hot noodles among the bowls, top with the pork and preserved mustard greens, then place the choy sum on the side and sprinkle with peanuts and spring onion. To eat, mix it all up to coat the noodles well with sauce.
This is an edited extract from Two Good Co’s third cookbook Change the Course. It’s available now to order online, and will be in retailers from October 18. Fifty per cent of profits are reinvested into Two Good Foundation’s programs to support, train and employ women who have experienced homelessness, domestic violence and complex trauma.