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The Mixing Bowl: Black beans, pork, mushrooms and noodles

In case you’ve ever wondered what were the secrets that make Chinese food so fantastic, this recipe opens that door. It’s fairly easy and the combination of the sweet hoisin and black bean sauces load this dish with spicy flavor. Served with noodles and garnished with cool cucumber sticks, it makes a one dish meal.

The Chinese name of this dish written in the Latin alphabet is zha jiang mian, which translates to “fried sauce noodles.” Like sourdough bread is associated with San Francisco, zha jiang mian is connected to China’s capital city, Beijing, once called Peking. Another Beijing dish is Peking Duck but it is much more complicated. (In 2014, for the adventurous, I presented a recipe for Peking Chicken in this column.) Beijing is the third largest city in the world with a population more than 21 million in the city proper. Chongqing and Shanghai are in first and second place. New York City, the largest American city, ranks 31st at 8,623,000 million.

A vegetarian version of this dish can be made by substituting tofu, edamame or eggplant for pork. It was this vegetarian version that got a cook a job at the Empress’ palace during the Qing Dynasty after the Empress Cixi tasted it on one of her travels. As I have mentioned before, many Chinese dishes have stories that accompany them. A Japanese version of this dish, from the city of Morioka, is called ja ja men, where the sauce is served over ramen noodles. A Korean version is called ja jang myeon. Note the similarities in all the names.

As in cooking most Chinese food, it helps to have all your ingredients prepared and nearby before you hit the stove. Note the use of the reserved pasta water as a thickener. This is also done in Italian cooking. The recipe is inspired by one from the cookbook, “Milk Street Tuesday Nights” by Christopher Kimball. Kimball takes many foreign recipes and makes them accessible to American audiences.

Ingredients:

12 ounces dried wide, thick Asian wheat noodles like udon

2 tablespoons high heat oil

8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and finely chopped

12 ounces or ¾ pound ground pork

4 green onions, white and light green minced and dark green tops sliced

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon chili flakess

½ cup dry sherry or mirin

3 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon rice vinegar

1 ½ cups English or Persian cucumbers sliced on the diagonal and cut into matchsticks

Cook the noodles by bringing 4 quarts of water to a boil. Do not add salt. Add noodles and cook to al dente in about 5-6 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water when draining noodles. Rinse noodles under cold water and drain well

In a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat, add the oil. When oil shimmers add mushrooms and cook until softened and mushroom bits start sticking to the bottom of the pan in about 3 minutes. Add the pork and cook until crispy and caramelized in about 6 minutes.

Stir in minced green onions, garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant. Add sherry and stir until evaporated. Pour in water from the noodles, black bean sauce, hoisin and soy sauce. Simmer and cook over medium heat until sauce thickens in about 4-5 minutes. Break up bits of pork. Remove pan from heat and stir in vinegar.

While the sauce is cooking, add 1 teaspoon rice vinegar to cut up cucumber. Divide the noodles  and sauce between bowls. Top with sliced green onion tops and cucumber sticks. 

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