(Mostly) Paleo Dan Dan Noodles
If anyone else out there lives in Philly, you may have heard rave reviews of, or had the pleasure of enjoying, the Dan Dan Noodles at Han Dynasty. If you haven’t, I will try describing this dish to you, however my words will just not do it justice.
Dan Dan noodles are a Szechuan delight. A peanuty, porky, spicy bowl of awesome. The heat, made from two kinds of Szechuan peppercorn, is like nothing you’ve had before. The red peppercorn gives the dish a slight floral taste, with a more typical up front spice-factor. However, the green peppercorn creates less of an in-your-face, tear-inducing kick, and feels more like a diluted Novocain shot to the taste buds. So, once you take a pause from slurping down the delicious savory noodles, its as if your salivary glands have all sprung a leak. Its terrific and tingly, and you’ll want to keep going back for more.
Scott and I are, like many, huge fans of Han Dynasty. However, in keeping mostly Paleo, we reserve it for the rare occasion. So when we set out to create our own Dan Dan Noodles this weekend, we decided to make a few easy swaps to a great recipe from Lady and Pups, and make our noodles more diet-friendly. The result was great! One issue we ran into was that we couldn’t find the green Szechuan peppercorn, so we used regular green peppercorn instead. However, I will list the Szechuan variety in our recipe so that, should you have more luck than we did, you get the full effect of the spice. Another slight issue was the inclusion of douban chili bean paste; A paste made from broad beans, soy and chili, which is somewhat of a departure for us because we typically avoid soy and beans. However, with only a few tablespoons of the stuff and the fact that it is fermented (fermented legumes are a little more acceptable in the Paleo diet), we made an exception. You may be able to find a better brand of the stuff than we did, as I have read there are some varieties that don’t use soy at all.
Aside from the two small issues above, the “Paleoification” of this recipe was a breeze. We used yam noodles as a base (if you haven’t tried these, get on it! They can be found in the refrigerated produce section of the Asian supermarket), swapped almond butter for peanut, coconut aminos for soy sauce, and used light olive oil instead of vegetable oil.
Paleo Dan Dan Noodles (makes 2 servings)
For the chili oil:
- 1/2 cup of light olive oil
- 1 scallion, cut into segments
- 2 slices of ginger
- 2 garlic, smashed
- 2 star anise
- 1 small piece of cinnamon, approx 1″
- 3 tsp of sichuan green peppercorn, slightly crushed with mortar and pestle
- 1 tsp of sichuan red peppercorn, slightly crushed with mortar and pestle
- 2 1/2 tbsp of chili flakes
- 1/8 tsp of ground coriander
- 1/8 tsp of ground cumin
For the sauce:
- 1/2 lb of ground pork
- 1 tsp of coconut aminos
- 1 tsp of sesame oil
- 4 garlic
- 1 piece of ginger, approx 1 tbsp
- 3 tbsp of douban chili bean paste
- 3 1/2 tbsp almond butter
- 1/2 tsp of ground sichuan red peppercorn (grind it in a mortar and pestle, and then sift out the hulls with a fine mesh strainer)
- 2 tbsp of Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
- 1 package yam noodles
- sliced almonds and scallions as garnish
Make the chili oil (you can do this ahead of time). Combine olive oil, scallion, ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, green peppercorn and red peppercorn in a small sauce pan. Set over medium heat and fry ingredients until the garlic and scallion are slightly browned. Add the chili flakes, ground coriander and cumin. Let simmer another minute, then turn off the heat and set it aside to allow the flavors to steep. The longer it sits, the spicier it’ll be!
You can also make the sauce paste ahead of time. In a food processor, combine the garlic, ginger, douban paste, almond butter, and ground peppercorn. Blend until it forms a smooth paste. Set aside.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a stock pot or deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground pork, coconut aminos and sesame oil, and cook until the meat has browned slightly. Add the sauce paste and cook, while stirring, until its fragrant and browned a bit more. Add the rice wine and chicken stock to deglaze the pan and let come to a simmer. Add the white pepper and cook 5 more minutes.
Rinse the yam noodles and divide into two bowls. Heat them up in the microwave for 2 minutes or so, then divide the sauce evenly over the noodles. Top with sliced almonds and scallions, and a drizzle or two of the chili oil to taste. I also served mine with sautéed bok choy just to add some extra veg!