Meera Sodha’s recipe for vegan ben ben noodles

It burst my bubble when I found out that dan dan noodles, the famous Sichuan dish, was not named after two men called Dan, but after the type of pole used by street sellers to carry their baskets of noodles and sauce to sell to passersby. In this instance, however, the name ben ben refers to my friend, the great cook Ben Benton, on whose recipe this is based. Here, shiitake mushrooms rub alongside tahini and roast chilli oil to make an astoundingly good sauce that’s hot enough to put hairs on your chest.

Ben ben noodles

There are a few ingredients here that you might need to pop to a Chinese food shop for, such as the Shaoxing wine, Chianking vinegar and chilli oil (Lee Kum Kee does a great one), although some are also available in larger supermarkets and online. If you can’t get hold of the wine, use dry sherry, and swap the Chianking for white-wine vinegar; you could even make your own chilli oil, too.

Prep 15 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 2

250g shiitake mushrooms
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp oil
40g gherkins or pickled cucumber, finely chopped
2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal, whites and greens separated
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
2 tsp light soy sauce
200g wholewheat noodles
200g baby pak choi or similar greens, shredded

For the sauce
3 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Sichuan roasted chilli oil, with sediment, plus an extra drizzle to finish
1 tbsp Chianking black-rice vinegar

Blitz the mushrooms in a food processor to lentil-size pieces – be careful they don’t turn to soup.

Put the peppercorns in a dry frying pan on a low heat and toast until fragrant – about four minutes, but be vigilant because they burn easily – then remove and grind. In the same pan, heat the oil on a high flame. When hot, fry the chopped mushrooms, pressing them into a single layer to maximise contact with the pan, for eight to 10 minutes, until dark brown and beginning to crisp up. Add the gherkins, spring onion whites and the ground Sichuan pepper, fry for two minutes, then add the wine and soy, and cook for two minutes more, until dry and crunchy.

Mix all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. It will look a little split at first, but just keep mixing until it comes together.

Cook the noodles in boiling water according to the packet instructions, stirring to separate them, and add the pak choi for the final two minutes. Just before the noodles are done, remove a mugful of the cooking water, then drain and put the noodles and greens in a large bowl. Mix in the sauce, the mushrooms and the reserved cooking water, tablespoon by tablespoon (I needed six), until the noodles are nice and saucy.

Divide between two plates, sprinkle with the spring onion greens and a drizzle more oil, and serve.

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