This gorgeously saucy noodle dish is straight from the streets of Sichuan. Our vegetarian dan dan noodles consist of thin wheat noodles slathered with a flavour-packed, creamy sesame sauce and a firey chili oil. Topped with mushroom mince and bok choy, they are an incredibly moreish dish.
Country Number 36: China
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know anything about China, so I won’t bore you with details about the country in general. Also, given its vast size, it would be unrealistic to try and generalise anything I say about the nation as a whole. Instead, I’ll tell you a little about Sichuan, the region from which this dish originates.
Sichuan is a landlocked province in southwestern China, with a population of around 81 million. It consists of two rather distinct geographical landscapes: to the east is the lush, verdant Sichuan basin, and to the west lie numerous mountain ranges which make up the eastern section of the Tibetan plateau. Due to the fertility of the eastern region Sichuan is known as the ‘Province of Abundance’ in China, and is additionally an industrial hotspot.
History of Sichuan cuisine
One of the most distinctive features of Sichuan cuisine is the infamous Sichuan pepper (花椒; huājiāo or ‘flower pepper’). This peppercorn has a citrusy-flavour and causes a numbing sensation in the mouth due to the presence of a particular molecule: hydroxy-alpha sanshool. In simple terms, it packs a punch. As well as in Dan Dan noodles, this pepper is particularly used in Sichuan hotpot, the most renowned of Chinese hotpots, famous for its tingly, spicy taste. Sichuan cuisine also frequently uses other spices including garlic, ginger, star anise, and broad bean chilli paste.
As well as Dan Dan noodles and hot pot, Sichuan is also known for producing the glorious Mapo Tofu. We really owe a lot of gratitude to this deliciously flavourful cuisine. In fact, due to its spicy, distinctive dishes, Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu was declared a city of gastronomy by UNESCO in 2011.
Popular Chinese Vegetarian Dishes
- Mapo Tofu – as mentioned above, Sichuan province produces this dish of firm-style tofu braised in a chilli-oil, five-spiced infused sauce. It is traditionally served with pork mince but this can be withheld to keep it vege.
- Di San Xian – a vegan dish consisting of sautéd potatoes, eggplant, green capsicum, onion and garlic in soy-sauce.
- Scallion pancakes – flaky, crispy pancakes flecked with spring onions, eaten as an appetiser with a dipping sauce
- Steamed buns – many steamed buns have veggie fillings such as tofu, mushrooms, or vegetables.
- Shiitake wonton soup – shiitake-stuffed wontons in a delicately seasoned broth.
- Vege fried rice – another staple which is often made simply with rice stir-fried with egg and vegetables.
Vegetarian rating of Chinese Cuisine:
Making Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles
This dish takes some prep, mostly because it has quite a few different parts to it. However, it’s simple enough and so so delicious when it’s done. It consists of wheat noodles tossed in sesame sauce and mushroom mince cooked up in a bunch of different spices and flavourful ingredients. Then, the noodles are topped with blanched bok choy, crushed peanuts, chilli oil, and spring onions.
If you’re going to make the chilli oil from scratch (which we’d strongly advise), it’s worth doing it in advance. This allows the oil to have more time to infuse the flavours. Also, various parts of the recipe require ingredients that you can only source from an Asian supermarket. If you take the time to make the trip, it is so worth it. Plus, it is a lot more fun than shopping in your average supermarket.
One of the most key parts to this recipe is timing. It all comes together very quickly, so you need to have everything prepared in advance before you begin cooking in order that everything is hot to serve. Having said this, the dish can be served cold if you prefer, in which case take your time. Make the sauce first (as it doesn’t need to be hot), then cook up the mince, and once they are almost done cook the noodles and blanch the bok choy.
How to make Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles
While it does require various steps and advance-prep before it all comes together, none of the steps are particularly arduous or tricky, so don’t let that put you off!
- Prepare the sauce by whisking sesame paste with soy sauce together in a bowl, incorporate the vinegar, then add the other ingredients.
- Fry up the mince until browned, then add seasoning ingredients. Cook for a further couple of minutes until well-infused and all liquid is evaporated.
- Cook the noodles according to their packet instructions and blanch the greens.
- Pour ¼ cup of sauce into each bowl along with desired amount of chilli oil, place noodles on top followed by mince, and then top with all other garnishes. Enjoy!
Ingredient notes for Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles
- Chinese Sesame Paste – one of the ingredients you can source at a Chinese supermarket. It is made from roasted white sesame seeds. If you do not have access to an Asian supermarket, you can substitute with a mixture of tahini and smooth natural peanut butter. Tahini has a more piquant flavour to than Chinese Sesame Paste however, so it can’t really act as a 1:1 substitute.
- Chinkiang vinegar – another ingredient to be sourced at a Chinese supermarket. You can substitute with rice wine vinegar if you need but that is a white vinegar instead of the richer, sweeter dark chinkiang vinegar.
- Sichuan peppercorns – they can be found in some mainstream supermarkets and of course Asian supermarkets. If needs absolutely must, you can substitute with black pepper corns combined with coriander seeds at a 1:1 ratio.
- Fermented black beans – once again, Asian supermarket is the way. At a stretch you can use black bean garlic sauce, but it won’t have the same potency of flavour the fermented kind possess.
- Sui Mi Ya Cai (Sichuan preserved mustard greens) – quite an elusive ingredient but a must-have for Dan Dan noodles – once again, get yourself to an Asian supermarket.
- Shaoxing wine – a type of fermented rice wine. You can guess where to source this. You can substitute with sake if you have it as they have similar flavour profiles.
Serving suggestions for Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles
As the noodles are very saucy, we recommend serving them in wide bowls. Start with the sauces at the bottom, piling the noodles and mince on top, and finishing it off with the other garnishes. Once they are piled up you can mix them together at your leisure.
- 1 tsp sichuan peppercorns
- 4 tbsp sesame paste (or 1 tbsp peanut butter 3 tbsp tahini)
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 1/3 cup chilli oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 400g shittake mushrooms, finely diced
- 3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
- 2 spring onions, white parts diced, green parts sliced and reserved for garnish
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup preserved mustard greens
- 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 1/2 tbsp shaoxing wine
- 400 g dried thin noodles
- 1 bunch of baby bok choy
- 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
- Chilli oil
- Make sesame sauce: In a small frying pan, lightly toast the sichuan peppercorns, then grind using a mortar and pestle. In a small bowl, whisk together sesame paste and soy sauce. Add rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, chilli oil and sichuan peppercorns. Set aside.
- Make mushroom mince: Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil on a medium-high heat in a wok or non-stick pan. Fry the mushrooms and walnuts and until softened and browning. Reduce heat to medium and add spring onions, mustard greens, soy sauce and shaoxing wine. Cook further until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Compile noodles: Cook noodles according to packet instructions. Bring a pot of salted water and quickly blanch bok choy until just tender but still retaining some bite. Spoon ¼ cup of sesame sauce into each bowl, spoon in as much chilli oil as desired, top with noodles followed by mushroom mince, and then top with bok choy, crushed peanuts, and sliced spring onion greens.
Other dishes to try:
- Draniki Recipe: Mushroom-Stuffed Potato Cakes from Belarus
- Tufahije (Bosnian Walnut-Stuffed Poached Apples)
- Vegetarian Poutine with Mushroom Gravy