…because some thoughts are worth remembering
When you are abroad for an extended period of time, you start longing for that flavor from your childhood you have taken for granted. Experiencing East Asian flavors in restaurants in Denmark typically ends in a regrettable bill and disappointment. Having been spoiled with authentic East Asian restaurants in Japan and fusion cuisines in Hawaii, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
There are several Asian grocery stores in Aarhus, Denmark. I still try not to rely on too many special ingredients that require importing from a far. I restricted myself to one ingredient I couldn’t get easily in a regular supermarket here: 豆板醤 “tōbanjan” or doubanjiang, a spicy, salty condiment made from fermented broad beans.
Inspired by Mollie Katzen’s Vegetarian Tan Tan Noodles my tantan-inspired spaghetti was tested on palates from Thailand, the US, Japan, Canada, and the UK.
TanTan-inspired Spaghetti (that comforts your soul)
1. Drain water from the firmest tofu (300 – 500g) you can get by wrapping first in a paper towel, then placing it on a stack of old newspaper, and placing a heavy pot on top (you can place some more sheets of newspaper under the pot to soak up the water from the top as well).
2. Slice the tofu into thick slabs. In a large pan, fry them in a tablespoon of vegetable/peanut oil per batch (if you have sesame oil, you can substitute half the vegetable oil with sesame oil) on all 6 sides until the surface has a crisp texture to it.
3. While frying the tofu, mince 2 or so onions to make a heaping cup, and slice 300 g of mushrooms (i used portebello, but other mushrooms would work fine). Take the tofu slabs out as they are fried onto a cutting board, and then place all the onions and mushrooms into the frying pan with additional vegetable oil. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté til the mushrooms have given up their liquid. Dice the tofu while the vegetables sauté.
4. Start to boil the water for spaghetti (about a pound). Cook the pasta so that it will be done when the vegetables are cooked.
5. Put a cup of frozen peas onto the veggie mixture. Add diced fried tofu. Heat through.
6. in the largest mixing bowl you have, combine 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/3 cup doubanjiang, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1 cup boiling water. Mix until the peanut butter chunks are blended. Set aside.
7. Place the peanut sauce mix and the sautéed vegetables into the large bowl and toss together.
8. Plate the pasta. Garnish with chopped green onions and/or crushed peanuts. Serve with extra doubanjiang sauce on the side. For the meat eaters, I also served some sautéed ground pork (seasoned with soy sauce and doubanjiang) on the side as a topping.
I realized these flavors probably did not take my international guests back to the same memories I had, if it took them back in the past at all. Perhaps it foreshadows other dishes they might encounter in the future, or perhaps it, together with the lively conversation we had, will become a memory they will recall at a future dining event.