Crispy tofu dandan noodles

Now, all you need to know about Sichuan dandan noodles is that they’re blooming delicious and so simple to make! Dandan often uses meat such as pork mince however, after a meat heavy Christmas season, I have decided to lighten this up and use tofu. These noodles are also packed with other vegetables such as shitake mushroom, which give a wonderfully meaty taste and don’t compromise on flavour. Balance this with the savouriness of Tianjin preserved vegetables and you have a dish to die for! Preserved vegetables may sound strange but, believe me, they are divine. They add a wonderfully salty and garlicky taste that is hard to replicate.

I have cooked my tofu in an unusual way by crumbling it into smaller pieces that resemble mince; frying crumbled tofu adds a crunch to the dish which balances the texture of the vegetables perfectly. Use a firm tofu and, if you haven’t had it before, it is a good introduction to it. Sichuan peppercorns are also called for; you can find these in Chinese supermarkets and add a mouth tingling finish. The taste is completely different to the heat that a chilli provides so it is worth finding these.

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Ingredients- serves 2
2 tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp Chinese chilli oil
1/2 tbsp sesame oil or tahini
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
200g firm tofu
1 tsp cornflour
2 tbsp Tianjin preserved vegetables
200g shitake mushrooms- roughly chopped
2-3 spring onions- chopped
1 head of pak choi- leaves shredded and stalk chopped
200g rice or egg noodles

1. Start by making the sauce that also provides the base for the dish. The Sichuan peppercorns need to be toasted; to do this, take a small frying pan and heat to medium, warm the peppercorns until they start releasing their fragrance. Remove from the heat and grind in a pestle and mortar before setting aside. Combine both types of soy sauce, the chilli oil and sesame or tahini. A word of caution: Chinese chilli oil can be rather warm on the old tongue so I always give mine a quick taste and adjust to my liking. Dandan noodles are meant to have a bit of kick!

2. To prepare the tofu, remove from the packet and drain off any excess water it comes in. Pat dry thoroughly between pieces of kitchen roll. Crumble the tofu into small pieces and sprinkle over the cornflour; this will help the tofu to crisp up. If you find your tofu is particularly moist, then you can add a touch more flour. At this stage, add half of the ground peppercorns and toss through the tofu. Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the tofu; cook over a medium heat until the tofu is crisp and golden. This may take around 10 minutes so give it a stir from time to time as you move onto the next step.

3. Boil a pan of water and cook the noodles according to packet instructions. Take a wok and add a glug of flavourless oil such as groundnut or vegetable oil over a medium heat. Add the remaining peppercorns, preserved vegetables and half of the sauce. Throw in the mushrooms, spring onion and the chopped stalks of the pak choi and cook for a minute or two.

4. Drain the noodles well and add bit by bit to the wok. I added a small amount at a time and then added another bit of sauce with each addition of the noodles to minimise the risk of them clumping together. Pop in the pak choi leaves and stir fry until the vegetables are cooked through and the noodles are warmed. The sauce should lightly coat the strands of noodle. Serve immediately in warmed bowls and divide the crisped tofu and sprinkle on top of the noodles.

Crispy tofu dandan noodles- a new way to use tofu for the New Year!

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