Z is for Zha Jiang Mian
Noodles have a history that go back to 4000 years, archeological evidence shows. It had its origin in north west China. Probably, there is no food item that travelled so far around the world, with noodles in some form or other being enjoyed in every part of the world.
Zha Jian Mian, literally translated to ‘fried sauce needles’ is one of the most popular noodle dishes, most prevalent in the city of Beijing. It originated from the Shandong province of Northern China and is common to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and many other countries in the east as well, of course with minor variations.
This is one dish that must be familiar to anyone who has attempted any noodle dish. All the ingredients can be found in a Chinese grocery store. Regular wheat noodles of any shape will work very well. And extra firm tofu holds up much better without crumbling.
And you can safely make some ingredient swaps without affecting the flavor of the dish. You can use hoisin sauce in place of sweet bean sauce; only, in that case reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe as hoisin is sweeter. Japanese miso, especially if you mix the light and dark varieties (1:1) can easily replace the ground bean paste if you find it hard to get. And the chilis… you can use any of the hot chili varieties that you might have, or even a sweet chili. I used habanero because I had it in the fridge already.
And if you want to add more vegetables to the dish, you have so many options: sweet peas, snap peas, Napa cabbage, red and green peppers… any of them can be sliced this and added to the pan along with the carrots.
The meat sauce is served on top of the boiled noodles, with garnishes like sliced cucumber, radish, carrots etc and extra bean sprouts.
Z is for Zha Jiang Mian
- Marinate the ground pork with 1 tsp corn starch, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, and salt and pepper. Set aside for 15 minutes.
- Set a large pot of water to boil.
- Heat the cooking oil in a largish pan over high heat. When hot, add the scallions, hot chili, and shallot. Fry, constantly stirring, till the shallots are softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the marinated ground pork and stir together breaking up any lumps. Reduce the heat to medium and cover and cook till the pork is fully cooked, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle some water on the pork if the mixture is drying up too fast.
- When the pork is cooked, bring the heat back up to high. Add the tofu to the pan and mix well. Continue frying for another 2 minutes.
- Add the two bean sauces, soy sauce, carrots, mushrooms bean sprouts, and sugar to the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of water and stir well to combine all ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.
- Mix the remaining corn starch in a tablespoon of water. Add to the pan and mix well and continue cooking till the sauce has thickened, for about 2 more minutes. Check for seasoning. Turn off the heat and keep the pan warm.
- Check that the water set to boil in the pot is on full boil. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions.
- When the noodles are done, drain them in a colander and toss with the 1 teaspoon of remaining sesame oil.
- Serve the noodles in bowls and top with the meat sauce mixture, with garnishes like strips of carrots and cucumbers, and bean sprouts.