Monday, January 20, 2014

Quick Dan Dan Noodles

Dan dan turkey noodles

I always wanted to try dan dan noodles, but I've never gone to a restaurant to try them before. I heard about them by reading food blogs online, and it seemed simple yet satisfying. After forgetting about it so many times, I finally had the means and the memory to make it!

I looked up a recipe as a guideline and then started cooking with what I had on hand and to my preferences. Instead of traditional ground pork, I used ground turkey, which is generally heralded as healthier than pork or beef. I try not to eat a lot of pork anymore, in part because I do not eat that much meat anymore and because my mom decided one day pork was bad for us and decided not to cook it anymore at home. I also do not eat or buy beef very much because of the low amount of meat I just normally eat, and because I don't really know how to cook chunks of beef.

I doubled the recipe, but added much less soy sauce and other salty sauces than called for because I do not like things to be too salty. Despite this, the sauce came out still very salty and I will remember to lightly dress my noodles and meat with the sauce. I did not have sesame paste, but I did have leftover toasted sesame seeds from yesterday's sushi prep, so I threw those into my coffee/spice grinder, along with 4 garlic cloves, and a 1/2" knob of peeled ginger. I ground this into a chunky paste for the dan dan sauce, in place of the recipe's sesame paste. I also did not have hot chili oil nor Sichuan peppercorns, but I have an awesome Vietnamese substitue: Huy Fong chili garlic sauce! You should have this in you kitchen. I like it even better than Sriracha for cooking.
I tossed a huge glob of this into the sauce and DANNGGG was the sauce spicy. I can't ever imagine eating true Szechuan/Sichuan food. I think my tongue would light on fire and I'd die on internal burning.

So, if you don't have typical Chinese ingredients at home, but have access to soy sauce, vinegar, chili garlic sauce, fresh vegetables, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and Chinese wheat noodles, it is very easy to make a Dan Dan-like noodle dish at home in nearly 30 minutes!!!

Pauline's Easy Dan Dan-like Noodles (Serves 3-4)
Meat Ingredients
1/2 lb (8 oz) ground turkey
1 Tbs grapeseed or olive oil
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs vinegar
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
Black pepper to taste
(I added some chopped kale leaves too. Yay vegetables!)
Sauce Ingredients
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2-ish Tbs sesame seeds (toasted, optional)
1/2" knob of ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 cup of water (I accidentally added 2)
3-4 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs vinegar
2 tsp white sugar
3-5 Tbs of Huy Fong chili garlic sauce (to your spicy desire)

8 oz (3-4 servings) dry Chinese wheat noodles
Other veggies (I used alfafa sprouts and thinly sliced carrots, but you can throw in spinach, green onions, bok choy, or none at all, but veggies are so good for you!)

1. Prepare the meat topping: Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs of oil, then toss in the meat and cook, chopping into small pieces. As it starts to turn brown, add the kale (optional), soy sauce, vinegar, Chinese five-spice powder, and black pepper. Continue stirring over medium heat until the meat and kale are fully cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Prepare the sauce: Puree the garlic cloves, sesame seeds, and ginger in a food processor (or spice grinder) until you get as minimally chunky paste as you can. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of water in the skillet from step 1. When it gets warm, throw in the paste and stir to distribute throughout the water. Add soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chili garlic sauce. Taste and adjust accordingly. Let cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
3. Boil the noodles according to package directions, adding vegetables in the last minute. Drain.
4. To assemble: Place noodles with vegetables in a bowl. Top with meat, then drizzle a ladle of the sauce on top, about 1/2 to 1 full lade is good, depending on how salty/spicy you want it and how much you are eating. Garnish with green onions or more sesame seeds, if desired. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Giant California Rolls

My senior year of undergrad at Berkeley, my best friend there taught me how to roll sushi. It was a really fun experience and tasty. I also tried this raspberry beer called Framboise and I was genuinely surprised that there was a beer out there that I liked. Sometime after that, I invited a bunch of my Vietnamese Student Association friends over to my apartment for a sushi rolling party. We made a lot of different rolls, but primarily imitation crab meat filling if I remember correctly. Every time, we made maki rolls, which are sushi rolls with the nori seaweed sheet on the outside. Recently I wanted to try my hand at making California rolls, where the rice is on the outside, then the nori, and then the fillings on the inside.
Maki sushi on left. California-style sushi on right. source

I prepared the crab filling using canned crab meat this time instead of imitation crab sticks. I simply drained the water from the can of (sustainably caught!) crabmeat, and added 2 Tbs of mayo and about 1/2 to 1 Tbs of Sriracha. I also sprinkled in some lemon pepper seasoning and ground black pepper. Seeing as it was still too moist (I did not drain it that well) and my eyes thought it was not enough meat, I sprinkled in vegetarian pork floss (something like this).
For vegetable fillings, I sliced some avocado, cucumber, and carrots into thin strips. I also washed fresh alfafa sprouts. I just looked up the health benefits of alfafa sprouts. One cup of alfafa sprouts contain about 10% women's DV of vitamin K. It also contains vitamin C and phytoestrogens, which can help reduce risks of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Alfafa sprouts also contain saponins, compounds linked to reducing LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol - although the site did not say how much saponin a cup of alfafa sprouts contain nor how much saponin is needed to be effective. Nevertheless, alfafa is a green vegetable and is definitely healthier for you than filling up on fatty, meaty fillings!
Ingredients all prepped.
I made the sushi rice using Kokuho Rose brand sushi rice. I washed a cup of rice under water for a while (they recommend doing it till the washing water is clear, but this brand says "No washing necessary", so I only did it briefly), then spread it out to dry for ~30 min along the walls of a colander. After cooking the rice, I mixed 1-1/2 Tbs rice vinegar, 1 Tbs sugar, and 1/2 Tbs salt. I poured the vinegar mixture over the rice and mixed it in with chopsticks. To add something a little extra, I toasted white sesame seeds in my toaster oven and mixed some in as well.

To assemble, you spread the rice in a thin layer on top of a sheet of nori, completely covering the nori. Sprinkle more sesame seeds if desired. Place a plastic sheet on top then flip it over. Place it on a sushi rolling mat and then put the fillings inside. I spooned on 1/4 of the crabmeat, then generously added all the vegetables. I tried rolling it over, but my rolls were not tight and I had forgotten how to correctly roll these, since I had done it so long ago. My rolls ended up looking like sushi burritos! HUGE! I ate two that night, because my friend and I made 3 altogether. I know sushi is not good the next day and did not want to waste those last 4 slices of my sushi.
HUGGGEEE sushi roll
After slicing into 8 pieces.
The nori I got is not that good. I will have to buy a better brand next time. Do any of you have suggestions on good nori for sushi?

Next time, I will definitely read up on the proper sushi rolling technique and also cut my avocados thicker.

In all, after not cooking for a month because of being on winter break at my mom's fully stocked house, it was good to get back into preparing my own meals. And sushi is a great first meal back at school!

Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone!