Dan Dan Noodles is one of the great dishes of Northern China, specifically the Szechuan Province. Originally it was kind of chili sauce that was really more of a spicy red broth laced with a little meat and pickled vegetables and ladled over wheat noodles. In the US, it morphed and became a sauce made up of Ground Pork, Sesame Paste (or Peanut Butter), Vinegar, Soy Sauce (Tamari in this case), Chili Oil and Sesame Oil. I used to love ordering Dan Dan Noodles, as long as it wasn't too hot. But, I haven't had it in a long time since I went Gluten Free and I miss it!
Tonight, I got inspired to make the Dan Dan Sauce without the meat and transform it into a Salad Dressing. I used a combination of Red Cabbage and Napa Cabbage and some Cooked Rice Noodles and Green Onions. I topped it with a generous sprinkling of lightly toasted Peanuts - I used the dried, uncooked kind from the Asian Market, or you could use Sesame Seeds instead. I toasted the ground Szechuan Peppercorns with the Peanuts to give them that extra MaLa (burning mouth) kick! It turned out to be a delicious Salad, full of crunch with a wonderful exotic flavor. The only thing I didn't have was Cilantro and next time, I will add that too. You can adjust the spiciness by the amount of Chili Oil you add and you can make it saltier or sweeter too. This recipe is definitely a keeper!
Dan Dan Noodle and Cabbage Salad
1/2 head small Napa Cabbage
1/2 head small Red Cabbage
4 Green Onions, sliced very thin
1/3 cup Peanuts or Sesame Seeds
Pinch of Salt and a Pinch of Sugar
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Szechuan Peppercorns, ground in a Mortar and Pestle
2 cups cooked Rice Noodles (about 3 ounces, boiled for 4 - 5 minutes and drained)
For the Dan Dan Sauce:
3 Tablespoons Sesame Paste (I used Tahini) or you can use Smooth Peanut Butter
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Chinese Black Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Tamari
1/2 up to 1 teaspoon Salt
2 - 3 teaspoons Sugar
1/4 cup Chicken Broth
2 - 3 teaspoons Chili Oil
Optional: 1 small Garlic Clove, minced fine
1/4 cup Cilantro Leaves for garnish
Slice the Napa Cabbage and Red Cabbage into thin slivers. Place in a salad bowl with the Green Onions.
Then toast the Peanuts (or Sesame Seeds) in a small frying pan until you can smell their fragrance - stir constantly so they do not burn. Then add in the Pinch of Salt and Sugar and the Szechuan Peppercorns. Stir for a minute and take off the heat and reserve.
In a small bowl, mix together the Sesame Paste, Sesame Oil, Black Vinegar, Tamari, Salt, Sugar, Chicken Broth, Garlic, if using and the Chili Oil. Blend well. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more Chili Oil, Salt or Sugar if desired. This can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
Cut the Rice Noodles with a pair of Kitchen Scissors and add to the Cabbage. Pour the Dressing over the Cabbage and Noodles and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle the Peanuts on top and the Cilantro, if using, before serving.
Five Element Analysis
Sesame Seeds are a food that the Chinese revere as they consider it extremely healthy and a tonic for the Kidneys so they belong to the Water Element. and the Sesame Oil and Tamari add even more. The Vinegar and the Napa Cabbage, as a green, leafy vegetable, contribute the Wood Element, although the Napa Cabbage is also Earthy and the Earth Element is enhanced even more by the Red Cabbage and the Peanuts too. The Fire Element is very well represented by the Chili Oil and the Szechuan Peppercorns. This then is a very balanced salad!