It’s a commonly repeated foodie-legend that Marco Polo introduced noodles to Italy after enjoying them on his journeys to China. I have to imagine that if this dish was being eaten in Marco Polo’s time, that it was certainly the inspiration for the iconic Pasta con Ragu Bolognese.
Having yet to visit China, I was first introduced to this dish when I was a personal chef for the Chinese-American family. They told me that this dish was so popular in Beijing that there were entire restaurants dedicated to just this dish. Of course, the matriarch of this family had an amazing recipe for it. Ja Jiang Mein is thick, fresh, wheat noodles; topped with a savory and dark meat sauce; garnished with crunchy cucumbers for a refreshing contrast. Very slurp-able, incredibly good.
Sadly, it’s been a while since I’ve made it down the hill to an Asian market and my pantry is devoid of some of the less common ingredients necessary to this dish. Alas, my cravings are often inconsiderate of what I have in my kitchen. The version of this dish that I came to know uses some Chinese-style pickled vegetables, sweet bean paste, a specially cured type of tofu and some sort of crunchy fried soy product, none of which I have right now. So, I’m making due and trying to be a creative cook and mimic the flavors with ingredients that I do have. (I hope I’ll be able to post a more authentic recipe some time.) While it’s not exactly the same, it scratches my itch using only ingredients common enough to be found in the Asian section of any large grocery store. It’s a pretty tasty homage in it’s own little way!
Ja Jiang Mein Approximation
Serves 4-6 – cost approx $1.36 per serving
- 1/2 cup dry black beans, well cooked or 1 can black beans ($.25)
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce ($.25)
- 1/4 cup ketchup ($.17)
- 1 lb ground pork ($2.19)
- 1/2 tsp ginger powder
- 1/2 lb package of white mushrooms, minced ($1.50)
- 2 scallions, minced ($0, the firsts from my herb garden!)
- Asian Hot Sauce, to taste/optional
- 1 cucumber, peeled and cut in matchsticks ($.50)
- 2 lb Asian wheat noodles ($1.71)
Start by blending together the black beans, hoisin and ketchup, if it’s very thick and doesn’t blend well add in some of the bean cooking liquid, stock or water. It should be about the consistency of ketchup. Set aside for later.
Brown up the ground pork in a large saute pan (if your pork is very lean, you may have to add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil), add in the ginger powder, chopped mushrooms and scallions and cook for a few minutes. Add in however much Asian hot sauce that you may like to suit your tastes. Mix in the pureed beans and simmer gently while you cook the noodles.
Put a pot of water on to boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions. Put a scoop of sauce on top of a bowl of noodles, then garnish with the cucumber shreds. Now get you chopsticks and dig in!