Dan Dan Noodles is a Chinese Sichuan dish consisting of noodles, preserved vegetables, pork, green onions, chili oil and Sichuan peppers in a spicy broth.
As I researched this very traditional dish, I found that the Sichuan peppers are a must and a highly sought after ingredient. It is supposed to be a 'peppercorn' so spicy that it numbs the mouth and tickles the tummy. So, off I went eagerly in search of this supposedly elusive, and at times banned, "peppercorn." The peppercorn is really the outer part of a tiny fruit. I was able to find it at a small Oriental Market in our town (I believe the ban on importing it is no longer in effect, but don't quote me.).
I made the Dan Dan Noodles using seitan and a vegetable broth souped up with chili oil and flavored with ginger, garlic and sherry. I went in for the winning shot and added plenty of Sichuan peppers, and eagerly awaited the promised elation that accompanies these peppercorns slamming against the palate. I awaited the fire that consumes your mouth and leaves it tingling ...and then....
Not much. Tingle, yes. But no fire. I figured I hadn't added enough peppercorns, so I added more and more until my plate had more ground peppercorns than seitan.
What a let down. I suppose this happens when the reality doesn't live up to the expectations. Therein lies your lesson; be on the lookout for the Sichuan peppers and if you find them, add them to your Dan Dan Noodles. However, in my opinion, the peppers, while being truly exotic, detracted from the flavor of the dish, so don't hold off making this in hopes of attaining some miraculous flavor component; you might be as disappointed as I was.
I made the noodles without the peppers and very little chili oil for the kids so I know the dish without it is really tasty, but if you can get your hands on them, go for it - there really is nothing like tasting a traditional ethnic dish with all the unique flavors it is supposed to posses. Just don't set yourself up for failure - keep your expectations in check.
stock, tamari, peanut butter, vinegar: $3
chili oil, sesame oil, sugar, Sichuan peppers: $1
garlic, ginger, preserved veg: $1
seitan, sherry: $2
Total to make 5 servings: