Lemongrass, ginger, whole bean sauce, chili paste and Asian eggplant are all part of Chinese Egg Noodles with Beef and Hot Bean Sauce, the Asian comfort food equivalent of spaghetti with meat sauce. Recipe below.
Let’s face it. Much as we’d like to, we can’t photograph every meal we cook [well, maybe you can, Jennifer, but the rest of us, not so much]. So when Marion called to say she’d picked up some beautiful Asian eggplants at the downtown farmers market and could I please pick up some ground sirloin on the way home, I knew something good was going to happen for dinner. And while Marion cooked, I set up the camera to make sure I got a shot of it. I’ll turn the kitchen over to Marion now to tell you all about it.
A couple of years ago, my sister gave me a copy of Bruce Cost’s Asian Ingredients as a birthday present. Somehow, I just never got around to looking at it. It sat among our cookbooks, looking inviting and new, and for some reason I never thought to take it up. Maybe, although I am not a devotee of high-design coffee table cookbooks, I had been put off by the drab layout and black-and-white photography. It was one of those inexplicable lapses.
The other day, though, we happened to pay our first visit to the very wonderful H Mart, in Niles. We already are fans of Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese-focused store, so when my colleague Jodi raved about H Mart, we had to go.
H Mart is a chain based in New Jersey, with stores in 12 states [and more locations opening soon]. There are a number of companies like it in the US, in essence supermarkets that focus on Asian consumers. H Mart’s particular audience is Korean.
The thing about H Mart is that it’s not just a store, it’s an experience. It calls itself a “one stop shopping center,” and while it doesn’t have everything it has many things—sparkling aisles of enticingly arranging products, a beautiful seafood and meat department, a food court, a vast case of different brands of kimchee, friendly salespeople offering tasty samples, and, arranged along an attractive corridor on the way to the parking lot, an arcade of tiny shops, many of which seem to sell cosmetics.
When we were getting ready for our first visit to H Mart, girding our loins for our drive to the suburbs, I happened to remember Cost’s book, and I grabbed it to glance through in the car. During the ride, I opened it almost at random, and I was hooked. All the time I threw away not delving into this book! Cost describes the essential Asian ingredients and a few that, even in this day, are unfamiliar even to adventurous American cooks [hair vegetable!], but the most valuable part is the recipes, which are many and enticing.
This noodle dish is based on the first recipe I noticed when I opened Asian Ingredients. At first I planned to make Cost’s original recipe, which is almost stark. But soon after our suburban trek, I happened to walk through the weekly farmer’s market at Daley Plaza and was lucky enough to find some beautiful Asian eggplant and the nicest lemongrass I’ve ever seen—tender, emerald green shoots—from an organic farm in Michigan. Those inspired this evolution of Cost’s dish.
Bruce Cost calls this the Asian equivalent to spaghetti with meat sauce, and I would say that is very correct. With warm eggy Chinese noodles, a spicy zip and a forthright meatiness, it is deeply satisfying in the same comfortable way. Now that the nights are drawing in, this is a good dish to have in your arsenal of cold weather food.
A variation for vegans is also included, in the Kitchen Notes.
Chinese Egg Noodles with Beef and Hot Bean Sauce
1 pound lean ground beef [see Kitchen Notes]
2 teaspoon canola oil or peanut oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons finely minced lemongrass [see Kitchen Notes]
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
4 tablespoons whole bean sauce [see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons chili paste [see Kitchen Notes]
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup water
3 chopped scallions
2 Asian eggplants, the tops cut off, sliced in 3/4-inch coins
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 lb. dried Chinese egg noodles [see Kitchen Notes]
First, start a large quantity of water, to cook the noodles, in a deep pot.
In a skillet, heat the cooking oil, then add the aromatics and sauté for 1 minute, stirring quickly. Add the ground beef and sauté it, breaking it up into grains, until it loses its color.
At that point, add the whole bean sauce and the chili paste. Stir everything together. Add the sugar and the water, and stir again. Add the eggplant coins, and bring the liquid to a simmer. The water should not be covering the eggplants—they should be sitting in it with the liquid level about a third of the way up their sides.
Cover the pan. Cook on a gentle simmer for about 6 or 7 minutes.
When the pot of water boils, add the Chinese egg noodles. Stir to make sure the noodles do not stick together, bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook until al dente.
Back to the meat sauce: Uncover the pan and raise the heat—you want to cook the liquid down until there is a small amount in the bottom of the pan—a coating on the bottom. At this point, stir in most of the scallions, reserving about a teaspoon for garnish, and stir in the sesame oil. If the noodles are not cooked yet, turn off the heat and cover the pan.
When the noodles are cooked, drain them. We served this by plating the noodles and then topping with the sauce and then the scallion garnish, but you may prefer to mix everything together in a big bowl and pass the bowl, family style.
Vegan variation: Chinese Egg Noodles with Tofu and Bean Sauce. Rather than using meat, substitute about 3/4 pound firm or extra firm tofu cut into 1-inch cubes. Sauté the cubes so all sides are golden, then proceed with the remainder of the recipe, but stir carefully to avoid busting up the tofu. Of course, this isn’t really a “substitute” recipe—it bears scant resemblance to the original and is its own unique and homey self.
And carnivorous variations. Instead of beef, you may use ground pork or ground lamb. If you use ground lamb, consider adding some cumin seed to the aromatics at the start.
When selecting lemongrass, look for the greenest stalks available—if you find yourself in a store selling only those beige pale ones, choose the one that feels the most tender. The drier it feels, the farther away it is from its birthplace, and the less flavor it will have. Cut off the very bottom and peel away the dry outer parts until you reach the tender core. That is the part you want.
Whole bean sauce. We usually use Szechuan brand bean sauce, which is a widely available whole bean sauce. Also widely available are ground bean sauces. I find the whole bean sauce to have a better flavor and a more appealing texture. Once you open the can, any unused portions can be decanted into a covered container and stored indefinitely.
There are many brands of chili paste available. The one we happen to have in the fridge at the moment is Huy Fong Foods Sambal Oelek. For this recipe, I don’t recommend using chili paste with garlic. If you use sriracha instead of chili paste in this recipe, then omit the sugar.
Use your noodle. For this dish, we used Wah King Noodle Company brand’s #4 Chinese noodles—a local brand. Many regions in the US have their own local Asian noodle manufacturers. But if you can’t find these or any imports, rather than using an American style short, plump egg noodle I recommend something more Italianate and flat, like linguine. It’s that long twirly action you want here.