The first time I tried dan dan noodles in Los Angeles I was not impressed. It wasn't until I flew across the world to Taiwan and tried their dan dan noodles that I was blown away. Turns out the first one I had was a fraud, a noodle dish that was attempting and failing miserably to be dan dan noodles. The true noodle dish is bursting with umami, spicy and yet still balanced with a little sweetness. And so, inspired by these noodles, I made a very loosely based version. These sesame chili udon noodles are reminiscent of dan dan noodles but have a savory crumbled tofu topping, crushed peanuts, and pickled cucumbers to tie it all together. It's not traditional but it's pretty darn delicious.
Sesame Chili Udon Noodles
- 2 Persian cucumbers thinly sliced
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons oil divided
- 14 ounces extra firm tofu drained
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons hoisin
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon five spice powder
- salt and pepper
Sesame chili noodles
- ½ cup boiling water
- ½ cup S&B chili oil with crunchy garlic
- ¼ cup sesame paste
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 lb udon noodles
- ¼ cup chopped toasted peanuts
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- Make the pickled cucumbers. Combine rice vinegar, boiling water, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar and salt dissolves. Add sliced cucumbers and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or in the fridge overnight.
- Prepare crumbled tofu topping. Wrap the drained tofu with paper towels and place a weight on top. Let sit for 10 minutes, draining the excess water. Remove paper towels and crumble tofu into small chunks.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick saute pan over medium heat. Add crumbled tofu and let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. Season with salt and stir to combine. Continue to cook until golden brown. Remove tofu from pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, heat another 2 tablespoons oil. Add chopped mushrooms and saute until browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 more minute. Add back tofu along with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, hoisin, sugar, and five spice powder. Mix to combine and simmer for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
- Make sauce for noodles. Whisk together boiling water with chili oil, sesame paste, soy sauce, sugar, and Sichuan peppercorns until well combined.
- Cook udon noodles according to directions on package. Drain and immediately add as much as sauce as you like, stirring to combine.
- Portion noodles into bowls and top with crumbled tofu. Garnish with pickled cucumber, chopped peanuts, and cilantro. Serve immediately.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Since dan dan noodles are usually vegetarian, I also decided to make my sesame chili udon noodles vegetarian. However, I have seen some versions with crumbled pork so I topped my dish with crumbled tofu. It's like the best of both worlds, you get a protein but yet it's still vegetarian.
The noodles come together fairly quickly so let's start with the item that takes the longest, the pickled cucumbers. Combine boiling water with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, stirring until the sugar dissolves. I always use boiling water to speed up the process.
Add the sliced cucumbers and let them sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Keep in mind that if you slice the cucumbers too thick, they will take longer to pickle.
Next, make the crumbled tofu. To get the best texture, use extra firm tofu if possible. Drain the tofu and wrap it in paper towels. Place a weight on top of the tofu, like a small pyrex container, and let it sit for 10 minutes. You want to drain as much of the water as possible.
Then, crumble the protein into small chunks so that it almost looks like ground meat (the operative word being "almost").
Heat oil in a saute pan and cook the tofu, letting it sit undisturbed for five minutes so that it can get nice and golden brown.
Once the tofu is browned, remove it from the pan and move on to the mushrooms. Finely chop the mushrooms either by hand or with the help of a food processor.
Then, saute the mushrooms until browned. Add back the tofu along with all of the seasonings and stir everything together.
For the seasonings, if you can't find Shaoxing wine, substitute it with sherry wine.
Keep the savory topping warm while you prepare the rest of the dish.
For the sauce, combine boiling water with sesame paste, chili oil, soy sauce, sugar, and ground Sichuan peppercorns until well mixed. I used S&B chili oil with crunchy garlic which is mild chili oil. However, you can use any other type of chili oil.
Cook the udon noodles according to the directions on the package and drain well. Toss the noodles with the sauce - go generous, it adds all the flavor - and top with the crumbled tofu, crushed peanuts, cilantro, and pickled cucumbers.
I didn't tell my husband at first that these sesame chili udon noodles were based on dan dan noodles. The original Chinese noodles are one of his favorite dishes so I didn't want to disappoint him with my version. Luckily, he thoroughly enjoyed this dish and I did as well!
For more Asian noodle recipe inspiration check out these scallion oil noodles!