Here is one dish that I cook on a regular basis at home, a true family favourite. I only learned to make zha jiang mian 炸醬麵 last summer after purchasing an excellent cookbook in Hong Kong. Without a long history, does it still qualify as family favourite? This zha jiang mian makes me think of Chinese take on spaghetti Bolognese with its robust meat and vegetable sauce over tender wheat noodles. A myriad of toppings including julienned cucumbers, omelette, blanched bean sprouts, and slivers of red chili pepper add textural and taste interest.
When I travel abroad, I love to visit bookstores to check out cookbooks not readily available in Canada. Even language barrier did not stop me from a few good purchases especially when the spectacular layout and photography attracted my attention. I feel fortunate that my knowledge of written Chinese and French is enough to let me understand most recipes. One of my most prized cookbook is an autographed copy of The Patisserie Of Pierre Hermé. However, on a much more practical nature is the handful of Chinese cookbooks written with home cooks in mind. The recipes range from traditional Hong Kong snacks to Cantonese dishes to Shanghai home cooking with Taiwan flavour.
Fu Pei Mei was a fixture on Taiwan cooking TV program for over 40 years until she passed away in 2004. She authored numerous cookbooks and even after her death, her legacy continues as her daughter Angela Cheng is also a fantastic teacher in homestyle cooking. I purchased one of their cookbooks last May and it has been expanding my horizon on Chinese cooking since. The cookbook was written in both Chinese and English so I was able to decipher the ingredients with good accuracy. Why the need to decipher if I understand both languages? You see, meat is butchered and labelled differently across different countries. Having both the Chinese and English translation is tremendously helpful. Other ingredients more unique to Chinese cooking have poorly translated English names. Knowing them by the Chinese name means I can source the correct ingredients as intended by the author.
The rich taste of the meat sauce in zha jiang mian is not something that I can figure out on my own with my limited knowledge on Chinese cuisine. Thanks to Fu and Cheng’s cookbooks, I now know the depth of flavour brought out by frying green onions, dried shrimps, sweet bean sauce, and dou ban jiang over low heat. Ground pork is traditionally used for its good balance of fattiness but with a rich sauce, I got away with using lean ground turkey without compromising on flavour. A large amount of sliced nappa cabbage offers a bit of sweetness.
There’s quite a bit of slicing and cutting for this dish. Personally, I love it because it’s meditative. I would say that this is a good dish to feed a crowd except that it’s so delicious even I tend to go for seconds. It really made my day when my friend JS gave me his seal of approval calling it simple but impressive. It meant a lot to me because this is the kind of food he grow up with. He even told me that my BF is one lucky guy!
Zha Jiang Mian 炸醬麵
adapted from 家傳菜 (Family Recipes) by 程安琪 (Angela Cheng) and 林慧懿 (Theresa Lin)
- 2 tbsp dried shrimps
- 2 stalks of green onion, chopped
- 300g nappa cabbage, cut into thin strips
- 450g ground turkey
- 3 tbsp sweet bean sauce 甜麵醬
- 1 tbsp dou ban jiang 豆瓣醬
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- vegetable oil
- 2 tsp of cornstarch
- 2 mini cucumbers, julienned
- 2 large eggs
- 112g bean sprouts
- 1 red chili pepper
- 350g thin wheat noodles
- Soak dried shrimps in 1/4 cup of water for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve soaking liquid. Finely chop the shrimps.
- In a large frying pan, heat 1 tsp of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Sauté dried shrimps and green onions until fragrant. Add in nappa cabbage and stir fry until vegetable softens. Tip into a bowl and set aside.
- Heat 1 tsp of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add ground turkey and stir around to break up into small pieces and browned. Tip into the bowl with vegetable and set aside.
- Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil over medium low heat. In a small bowl, stir together sweet bean sauce, dou ban jiang, soy sauce, and sugar until smooth. Heat the sauce in the frying pan for about two minutes, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble. Add in all the partially cooked vegetable, meat, shrimp soaking liquid, and enough water to make up for 1 1/2 cup of liquid in total. Bring to boil and turn heat down to a simmer. Cover with lid and cook for 20 minutes.
- While the sauce is cooking, cook noodles according to package instructions. In a non-stick frying pan, make a thin omelette with the eggs. Cut into thin strips. In a small pot of boiling water, blanch bean sprouts for 30 seconds and drain.
- If the sauce seems a bit thin, make a cornstarch slurry with 2 tsp of cornstarch and 2 tsp cold water. Stir into the sauce until thickens to desired consistency. Serve immediately over bowls of cooked noodles with cucumbers, omelettes, bean sprouts, and red chili peppers to be added at table side.