COULD THIS WORK?
THAT WOULD BE YOUR LAST THOUGHT, BEFORE THIS BOWL OF MAGIC POTION SUCKS YOU INTO AN UNSTOPPABLE WHIRLPOOL OF HAPPINESS.
Sorry I have been absent.
Boy, do I have a good reason.
Recently, I believe, we’ve all been experiencing a kind of peculiar surrealism in life. I don’t know about you, but for multiples times during the span of my day, I found myself staring at the mundane occurrences of my perceived reality – the sound of cars brushing through the street… radios in the background… my farts – like Neo, wondering if this was all just an elaborate Matrix. Am I going to be unplugged and wake up? Or am I trapped here forever? For one, Donald Trump is going to be the president of the United States. And for two, which is completely unrelated and sinks even deeper on a much more personal level, my body and wellness has taken an unexpected turn to a place where my mind is scrambling to cope.
Actually, unexpected may sound understated. Unfathomable, comes to mind.
I was diagnosed with a “condition” so to speak. I want to share everything with you. But the trouble is, I don’t know everything yet. Something along the line of cicatricial alopecia, but let me urge you to think twice before Googling it, and the truth is, there are still a lot more to find out before arriving at a conclusion, so there’s nothing too informative I could tell you at this point. It may come across as unnecessary and self-absorbed to talk about something without any provided informations, I get that, but I simply lack the talent to conduct business as usual, to roast a turkey, to make a pie, when my mind is in disarray. In two weeks time, I hope, I will be able to tell you everything. But before you frantically light up a cigarette, let’s just find comfort in the fact that it isn’t life-threatening, I hope, but let’s face it, not much more fantastic than that.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, something very fantastic.
This is a recipe that I have been developing for awhile. In Chinese, it is called wan-za-mian, meaning peas mixed noodles. It was one of my most missed and pondered upon, single food item that I’ve tasted in Beijing, even though it originates from Chongqing (a city next to Sichuan). It may look alarmingly laborious, that a bowl of noodle consists of 3~4 components, but oh gosh, nothing is more worthy of your time. The amount of liquid in proportion to noodles lurks in between two categories, too little to be called a “soup” but a bit more than just “sauce”, and therefore may I say, just perfect. It comes waddling towards your table in seemingly distinctive parts: the noodles half-submerged in soup, the soft and mushy stewed peas (which I’ve substituted with chickpeas) on top, the dark brown minced pork sauce made with sweet and spicy chili bean paste, and everything, I mean everything, glossed and covered under a layer of flaming rouge chili oil. Could this work? That would your very last thought before this mixture, under your anxious chopsticks, churns and folds into a spicy, oily, savory and deeply complex bowl of magic potion that sucks you, and your thoughts, into an unstoppable whirlpool of happiness.
Believe me. I felt like shit, and this thing still made me happy. Imagine what it could do to you.
- 1 tbsp (14 grams) lard, or chicken fat, or fine, canola oil
- 250 grams ground pork (30 % fat)
- 1 tsp all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp (70 grams) tian-mian-jiang/sweet bean paste
- 2 1/2 tbsp (63 grams) dou-ban-jiang/chili bean paste
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 small Asian shallots, finely minced
- 1/3 cup (90 grams) shoaxing wine, or rice wine
- 1 tsp dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock or water, divided into 3 portions
- 1 can (400 grams) chickpeas
- 4 cups (1000 grams/ml) chicken stock
- 3 slices ginger
- 1 star anise
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1 portion (100 grams) of ramen noodle
- 3/4 cup stewed chickpea broth
- 2 tsp toasted sesame paste, or tahini
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 grated garlic]
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp rice vinegar
- 3 tbsp meat sauce
- 2~3 tbsp Xi’an chili oil
- Finely diced scallions
- MAKE MEAT SAUCE: In a non-stick pot, heat the lard over medium-high heat, then add the ground pork. Stir and cook until the pork is broken down, then add the flour and cook until evenly browned. Add the tian-mian-jiang, doubanjiang, minced garlic, minced shallot, shoaxing wine, brown sugar and white pepper, and stir/cook for 5 min until the moisture has mostly evaporated. Add 1/2 cup of water or unsalted chicken stock, mix well, then once the mixture has come to a simmer, turn the heat down to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Continue to cook, stirring every 5 min, until the moisture has reduced down to a thick ragu consistency. Now add another 1/2 cup of water and reduce again (almost like cooking risotto). Once you’ve added the last 1/2 cup of water, and the mixture is reduced down into a thick ragu for the third time, it’s done. Set aside. Can be made ahead of time and kept in air-tight container in the fridge.
- MAKE CHICKPEA: Drain the chickpeas of any water from the can. You can peel the chickpeas for an extra smooth consistency but it’s optional. Now bring the chickpeas, chicken stock, ginger, star anise and ground cumin to a simmer, and cook for about 30 min until the chickpeas are very soft. Set aside. Can be made ahead of time.
- TO ASSEMBLE (for a single portion): Reheat meat sauce and stewed chickpeas if needed. Mix the chickpea broth (without chickpeas), sesame paste, soy sauce, grated garlic, sugar and rice vinegar in a large bowl (this is the base sauce). Cook the ramen noodles according to package instructions, then drain well and transfer into the bowl. Top with chickpeas, about 3 tbsp of meat sauce, 2~3 tbsp of xi’an chili oil and diced scallions. Mix then slurp.
I want to tell you that you could substitute tian-mian-jiang (sweet bean paste) with the more commonly seen hoisin sauce, and dou-ban-jiang (fermented chili bean paste) with the more familiar Korean gochujang. But the matter of the fact is, they are VERY DIFFERENT things in the flavor profile. I tested one batch with the substitution, and the result is much sweeter and less exciting. I had to adjust a lot with extra dark soy sauce, salt and mushroom powder (it's still quite good but just different). So I would urge you not to substitute these two ingredients (which are very available online).