i first posted this zha jiang mian in dec 2014, but i've been eating it for years. figured it was time for an upgrade of pictures, and maybe a written recipe rather than my lazy ramblings (;
it's the last bit of asian pacific american heritage month, aka the last post of the year where i can justify talking about asian american things for a specific asian american holiday (see the shiitake and avocado sushi as well as the decidedly not asian strawberry citrus marg float).
i went to the asianbossgirl meetup yesterday, and i have to say, it left me a little mush (the bar had a special menu for the event, and i couldn't not try the strawberry tequila "abg" drink, which helped motivate the mush, i'm sure). it's my favorite podcast of late (think topics centered around the asian american woman's experience), and i was disappointed when we walked in at first. it was people sticking to their friend groups (while i stuck to mine), and i felt bad for dragging my friends out of the way for this. we thankfully stayed long enough to hear that they were doing a q&a, which changed everything. helen, janet and mel were all so warm and genuine, and phil the surprise moderator was so good at being entertaining while ensuring they got all the spotlight. big ups to the podcast and everyone behind it.
i'm also updating this post for zha jiang mian. it's almost like spaghetti bolognese, if you swapped out the tomato sauce for a sweet fermented bean sauce. it’s soft and comforting, not to mention extremely easy. at least this iteration is; it’s from my mom’s college friend, and it's decidedly asian american. mom's spaghetti, chinese american style.
let's go back to that sweet bean sauce, aka the foundation of the zha jiang mian sauce. it's really dark and thick, intensely sweet, and mildly bean-y (much less so than refried beans or bean soup). i go for this yellow and blue can (look near the hoisin sauce in a chinese grocery store)... or i did. i couldn't find the can last time i went grocery shopping, and easily spent 30+ min in that aisle trying to decipher what i could use to a similar effect. i finally consulted the always reliable woks of life, and grabbed a jar labelled with 甜面酱 (which was still hard because option paralysis + i can't read chinese). when in doubt, look for those characters.
once you have that sauce, you can mellow it out with some water and beef it up with sauteed meat and onions. placed over pasta, it's rich and delicious. but with some cucumber and green onions? it's sweet and tender and crunchy and fresh and cozy. perfect for soothing my californian sensibilities (why is it still raining at the end of may...) x my asian american roots.
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 pound lean ground beef, pork or chicken
- 6 ounces sweet bean sauce
- sugar, soy sauce and/or rice wine vinegar for seasoning
- 1 pound pasta cooked
- 2 green onions minced
- 1 cucumber julienned
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat some oil. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the meat, breaking it up with a spatula into small bits, until browned completely. If it looks like there's a lot of fat, you can drain it off.
Add the bean sauce, as well as the same volume of water (fill the can with water and add it). Mix until the bean sauce and water are no longer separate. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until thickened.
Season the sauce to taste with sugar, soy sauce and/or rice wine vinegar. You're looking for the sauce to be pretty sweet and salty, since it will get diluted when you add it to the pasta, so keep that in mind. I typically add a touch of vinegar and that's it, but feel free to tinker as you please.
When you're looking for the sweet bean sauce at a Chinese grocery store (near the hoisin sauce), look for this can, or search for these characters: 甜面酱.
I usually use spaghetti or fusili, but you can go more traditional and sub in a thick fresh wheat based noodle.