Vegan Dan Dan Noodles With Eggplant
Dan dan noodles is an adored Sichuan dish traditionally made with ground pork, a spicy sauce and sui mi ya cai, or pickled vegetables, but this vegan version features pan-fried eggplant in place of the meat. Cutting the eggplant into relatively chunky pieces and covering the pot with a lid while cooking is the key to achieving the right texture; it ensures that they don’t fall apart, locks in moisture and allows the flesh to become tender and smoky. Once tossed with the noodles and sauce, the eggplant breaks up and becomes creamy. If you don’t have tahini, you can substitute it with smooth peanut butter or almond butter.
- Serves: 4 persons
- 3tablespoons soy sauce
- 3tablespoons black or rice vinegar
- ¼cup tahini (or Chinese/Japanese sesame paste)
- 2garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated or chopped
- 1(1-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated or chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2to 3 tablespoons chile oil, chile crisp or doubanjiang
- 2teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1large eggplant (about 1¼ pounds), trimmed
- Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
- 12ounces dried thin wheat noodles (See Tip)
- Neutral oil such as canola or vegetable
- 1tablespoon soy sauce
- Black pepper
- ½teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
- 2scallions, white and green parts separated and finely sliced
- A generous pinch of granulated sugar
- Handful of cilantro leaves
- 1cup dry, unsalted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
- Chile oil or chile crisp, for serving
Step 1Make the sauce: Combine the soy sauce, black or rice vinegar, tahini, garlic, ginger, chile oil and granulated sugar in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Step 2Slice the eggplant crosswise into ¾-inch-thick circles, then cut each circle into 1½- to 2-inch pieces. (They should be quite chunky.)
Step 3Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain the noodles, rinse just for a few seconds to remove some of the starchy water (they should still be hot), and allow them to drain.
Step 4Meanwhile, make the eggplant: Heat a wok or large, deep-sided skillet over medium-high. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of oil along with the eggplant, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper, and toss well to combine. Cover with a lid and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, tossing every 60 seconds. If it starts to burn, reduce the heat to medium. The eggplant is ready when it is caramelized and cooked all the way through but still intact. (Don’t let it get mushy.) Remove the lid, scatter over the ground Sichuan peppercorns (if using), the white parts of the scallions and sugar, and season with ½ teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Toss for 30 seconds and then turn off the heat.
Step 5Add the reserved noodle cooking water to the bowl of sauce and whisk to combine. Divide the sauce between four serving bowls.
Step 6Divide the noodles between the four bowls, on top of the sauce. Finish each bowl with eggplant, scallion greens, a few cilantro leaves and some peanuts.
Step 7To eat, toss everything together so that the noodles and eggplant are well coated in the sauce. Serve topped with chile oil or crisp.