My family are all big fans of Chinese cuisine, and I cook it often. One of my favourite cookbook authors is Fuchsia Dunlop, who wrote Land of Plenty and Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. Her memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China is a fascinating portrait of a young woman who learns to cook and eat anything and everything in China and then slowly discovers how environmental degradation affects the food supply.I've made many dishes from both of these cookbooks. In fact I posted on the Dan Dan Noodles last spring, but I made the version with meat. Rebecca Vandevelde has adapted this recipe and made it vegetarian, using tofu rather than meat and adding fresh vegetables. You might need to make a trip to your local Asian grocer for some of the ingredients, but it's well worth it. I always keep that sort of thing on hand and add them to a stir-fry as well as a more formal recipe. If you can't find Chinese black vinegar you can substitute Worchestershire Sauce, unless you are cooking for total vegetarians or vegans, because it contains anchovies.
This recipe which Rebecca adapted from Land of Plenty has a nice, tart taste to it from the preserves.
Dan Dan Noodles with Tofu
For the Sauce
1 Tbsp peanut oil
4 Tbsp ya cai (preserved mustard greens) or tianjin (preserved cabbage)
3-4 green onions
1 1/2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
4-5 Dried Chinese Chiles, depending on heat preference
1 1/2 Tsp Chianking vinegar (black Chinese vinegar)
1 Tsp Sichuan pepper
For the Topping
Splash peanut oil
1/2 lb tofu
1 large handful mustard greens, washed and dried
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
2 Tsp light soy sauce
salt to taste
8 oz dried Chinese Noodles
1. Drain and press the tofu to remove some of the water. Chop coarsely and set aside.
2. Toast the chilies and the sichuan pepper in a hot dry pan until fragrant. Set aside the pepper to cool.
3. Add water to the pan and simmer the chilies until they soften enough to chop. Set aside to cool and chop finely, being careful to thoroughly wash the knife, cutting board and your hands before reuse.
4. In a large wok over med-high heat, warm the oil. Add the pickled vegetables and stir-fry until hot and fragrant. Set aside.
5. Add another tablespoon of oil and when it is hot, add the tofu. When the tofu begins to crisp, add the shaoxing wine, soy sauce and salt. When cooked through, turn off the heat. Add the greens and set aside, allowing them to wilt over the tofu, stirring occasionally.
6. Grind the sichuan pepper in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and thinly slice the green onions.
7. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a large bowl. Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package. When the noodles are cooked and drained, add them to the bowl with the sauce. Top with the tofu and vegetable mixture, and stir gently just before serving to combine.