Vegan Spicy Braised Mince over Noodles

This is one of the dishes that were reminiscent to the time that I was in Taiwan for a semester for a Student Exchange program. One memory that I have with with this dish is when we returned to Taiwan 4 years later to visit some of our friends and we ended up in Jiu Fen, a popular seaside mountain area in Ruifang District that reminded us of a mix of Santorini, for its buildings cascading down the mountainside, and the town in Spirited away, for its distinctly Asian structures. It was a very hot summer day and after a full day of walking around, visiting stores, taking photos, and buying souvenirs like pineapple cake, we ended up in a small family restaurant where we each had a bowl of rice and topped with a beautiful braised minced pork sauce plus a tea egg on the side, and some seaweed salad to share. Our legs were so tired, so being able to sit on the floor in a quaint restaurant to have a warm bowl like that is so comforting. Typically, this rice topping dish is called 肉燥饭 Rou Zhao Fan or Taiwanese Braised Pork over Rice, or if the person chose noodles, Rou Zao Mian, Braised Pork over Noodles.

This is easily found in various small family side street restaurants or stalls, more popularly served over rice, but also served over dry noodles. When done right, the ratio of the minced meat, the sauce and the rice or noodles is so good that it isn’t too salty or flavorful, but also not too bland. Sometimes, it is served with some black sauce or chili bean paste, depending on the style and the taste of the family. Usually, some people like it pretty fatty since the fat coats the rice and noodles really well and gives a slight gelatinous addition to the dish.

For today’s dish, I’m using noodles (cause you all know how I love looove noodles haha!), but you can definitely use this sauce over rice. I also did a chili bean variation, something that I kind of picked up from the version that Din Tai Fung had. If you’re not a fan of too much spice, you can kick back on the usage of the paste, or use black bean paste instead.

Also, to replace the minced pork, I used reconstituted Shitake mushrooms, cooked in its own mushroom water. Then I added some extra firm tofu, the denser kind, to emulate an additional meaty texture that is also almost melt in your mouth, since we’re not using any pork fat. If you don’t find extra firm tofu, you can buy firm tofu, drain the liquid and wrap a tea towel around it and put a fairly heavy paperweight to press the tofu down for about 30 minutes to an hour, until most of the fluid has been released.

In other recipes like in Din Tai Fung, they also add other things like edamame. This is entirely optional. For my recipe, I didn’t do that since I felt that it was enough to satisfy the taste buds. If it’s also available to you, some Taiwanese pepper salt seasoning would also give that authentic taste to the dish!

It’s also important to note that I used Somen/Somyeon for this dish because that was the only available wheat noodles on hand, but any kind of thin or regular wheat noodle will work.

I’d have to say, this was a winner for the family–nobody missed the meat, since the mushrooms and tofu mimicked that minced meat texture. I even remembered someone asking, “Is there anymore of this somewhere?” An empty plate and asking for more than seconds is always a good sign!

So here’s the recipe and I hope you enjoy it cause I truly personally loved it, and I’m not even missing the pork fat!

Vegan Spicy Braised Mince over Noodles

Prep Time: 20 minutes to 1 hour

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Serves 5-6

Ingredients:

  • 100 grams of dried shitake mushrooms (you can use fresh but dried is ideal)
  • 250 grams extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 300 grams uncooked wheat noodles
  • 5-7 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 tbsp. chili bean paste (Toban Djan). For non-spicy, use 3-4 tbsp Black Bean Sauce suàn róng dòuchǐ jiàng, 蒜蓉豆豉酱)
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • ¼ cup spring onions, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp sugar or sweetener of choice (like stevia)
  • 2 tsp black vinegar (use regular vinegar if none, but black vinegar makes it taste more authentic!)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 bird’s eye chili, chopped (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes (optional)
  • About 1 tsp Taiwanese pepper salt seasoning (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a bowl, add about 1-2 cups of water and soak the shitake mushrooms for about 20 minutes to an hour.
  2. Once the mushrooms are soft, squeeze the water out of the mushrooms. Set the mushroom water aside for later.
  3. Add the mushrooms to a food processor and grind until it is minced finely. Make sure that you don’t over mince it so that it becomes like a paste, you want for this to still have some bite to it. Set aside.
  4. If you’re opting for the spicy version, do this next step. In a wok or saucepan over low heat, add ¼ cup of vegetable oil along with the dried chili flakes and the freshly chopped chili. Let it simmer in very low heat for 5 minutes, then remove everything including the oil from the heat.
  5. Then add ¼ cup of vegetable oil to the pan on high heat. Add the ginger and sauté for 30 seconds before adding the garlic.
  6. Sauté for another 30 seconds before adding the minced mushrooms and cubed tofu. Toss together for about a minute before adding the chili bean paste or the black bean garlic sauce.
  7. Mix together and add all the mushroom water that you set aside from earlier. Add the black vinegar and sweetener, and optionally, the Taiwanese Pepper Salt and mix.
  8. Taste the sauce at this point to see if it’s to your liking. If you feel like it’s too salty and see that the sauce is too dry, add a bit more water. If you feel like it’s a bit bland, you can adjust the seasoning by either adding some more bean paste or soy sauce. Just remember that we’re topping this on unseasoned noodles. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, adding water only if needed, if you feel like the sauce is drying up too fast.
  9. Add the chili oil that you made earlier (if you’re doing the spicy version) and mix before turning off the heat. Then add the sesame oil and spring onions.
  10. Then, cook the noodles according to package instructions. If you’re using fresh noodles, you will only need to blanch it for 30 seconds to about a minute. Drain the water from the noodles, and place on a plate or bowl.
  11. Top the noodles with the braised mince sauce, serve and enjoy! Don’t forget to mix the noodles before eating it to enjoy it better.

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