Like most of us, kitchen inspiration and appetite came to a screeching, brakes to the floor halt yesterday, January 1st. I didn’t think I could eat another thing, forget imagine and prepare another meal. At the same time I couldn’t bear seeing leftovers being hauled out and called dinner.
This happens every year, and every year I begin January with Asian soups, those wonderful great soothing bowls of broth piled high or low, depending on your appetite, with noodles, vegetables, flecks of protein, sesame oil, soy sauce, cilantro, chilis – all the tastes that have been absent from dinner in the last month if your last name is Atwood.
These are loosely inspired by dan dan noodles, also called “peddler noodles,” noodles with pork and peanuts, because not only did all the sentiments above apply to my dinner ideas, but I have a gorgeous bronze D’Artagnan heritage ham in my refrigerator. One of the most versatile proteins to take with you to foreign recipes, a heritage ham is like a good suitcase, it can carry almost any cuisine.
This is basically two very simple parts: noodles and boy choy cooked together in a seasoned broth, topped with browned ham, dry chiles, garlic, shitake mushrooms, and peanuts. That’s the chart, but substitute away: Any kind of noodle. Collards or swiss chard for bok choy. But reserve the pork, chili, garlic and peanut combination; It has the light deliciousness to create culinary amnesia, erasing all memory of too much tenderloin and trifle.
1 1/4 cups salted dry roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 dried chili pepper or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups chopped ham
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup sliced shitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos (divided)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
8 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon sesame oil
8 ounces birds nest style egg noodles (or 2 nests per person)
1 medium head bok choy, washed and chopped
chili oil to taste
Coarsely chop the peanuts. Heat a large saute pan to medium high. Add peanut oil. When hot, add chili pepper or red pepper flakes. Do not let burn. Add ham and garlic, and saute until the ham begins to sear. Stir in shitake mushrooms, and cook until all beings to caramelize, or get dark brown. Stir in 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or Bragg’s) and brown sugar and cook to combine all, about a minute. Stir in all but 1/4 cup of the peanuts.
Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 2 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg’s. Add the noodles and cook according to directions. Add the bok choy five minutes before the noodles are done.
In each bowl, put a few drops of chili oil. Lift noodles and bok choy into the bowls, ladling broth over all. Cover with ham and peanut mixture. Sprinkle a light dusting of reserved peanuts over all.