Dan Dan Noodles
Hi guys. How you been? I had no set expectation of how long it would take me to get back to publishing after baby, but boy, did those three weeks fly by.
Physically, I feel like I’ve been put through the ringer. Everything hurts. Shoulders, neck and upper back from hunching over baby; wrists from all the cradle-hold nursing; recovery from a cesarian; and don’t even get me started on my milk-makers. I’m permanently exhausted from the late-night parties and emotional as the crazy-pants pregnancy hormones try to reel themselves back in. My hair rivals the Simpsons cat-lady and I’ve been in jammies for the entire month of October so far. I feel pretty raw, but wonderfully human, and happy.
It’s amazing the difference between this birth and my first. When my first son was placed my first in my arms, I was handed a tiny bundle of anxiety. I had no idea what I was doing. I watched him like a hawk all night while he slept. The first time I fastened him in his stroller, I couldn’t figure out how to unclasp the buckle to get him back out, and I screamed “HELP!” in public as if I were trapped under a car. His first six months were the longest of my life as I struggled to figure things out and keep myself together.
With the second baby, I was actually handed the bundle of joy they promise. Trust me, struggling moms of one baby, it’s so much easier the next time around.
I’m still taking it really easy and not doing much cooking or housework while I let my body heal. I did cook a turkey dinner for Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend, though! But I paid for it afterwards. So now I’m back to the sofa.
This is a recipe I made a while ago – it is one of my favourite take-out dishes from a local noodle restaurant. It is such incredible comfort food – fat, chewy noodles called Shanghai noodles, or cumian. They’re thick and wonderfully satisfying. If you can’t find them, the closest substitution would be Japanese udon noodles.
There seem to be as many variations on the recipe as there are Chinese cooks, with many versions swapping the peanut butter for sesame paste (the peanut butter is likely a Westernization), adding pickled vegetables, or including the tongue-tingling heat of sichuan peppercorns. Greens are perhaps a less-common addition, but they certainly offer a welcome and vibrant foil to the richness of the dish.
In this rendition, ground pork is browned with garlic, chiles, and ginger before stirring in a flavourful sauce of peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar and brown sugar. Handfuls of spinach are added at the last minute, then everything is served atop hot noodles tossed in sesame oil. It hits all the right notes – sweet, salty, tangy, spicy – making it downright addictive (don’t say you haven’t been warned!).
Dan Dan Noodles
- 1 pound/450 grams Chinese Shanghai-style noodles or substitute Japanese udon
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound lean ground pork
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5 medium cloves garlic minced
- 2 serrano or thai bird chiles minced
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger packed
- 1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
- ½ cup natural peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar packed
- 4 cups baby spinach leaves packed
- Sliced green onions
- Chopped peanuts
- Crushed red chile or chile oil
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook noodles until tender, about 5 minutes or according to package directions. Drain noodles, return to pot and toss with sesame oil. Cover pot to keep noodles warm.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork, breaking up with a spoon, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in garlic, chiles, and ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pork starts to brown - about 5 minutes beyond when it is no longer pink inside.
- Stir in chicken broth and scrape up any brown bits stuck to bottom of the pan. Stir in peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar and brown sugar. When sauce starts to thicken, add the spinach, a handful at a time, allowing one handful to wilt before adding another.
- Divide noodles among four bowls. Top with pork and peanut sauce, then sprinkle with green onions and chopped peanuts. Allow individuals to add crushed chile or chile oil to taste.