I actually met my husband over a dead body. To this day my teenage daughter can’t quite believe the story, but the truth is not that surprising given that we were both medical students having to deal with dissection of cadavers for anatomy class. Hubs was a senior, hanging around the year 1 class, probably to check out the new batch of girls. I remember seeing him vaguely through a sheen of tears as the formalin smell was stinging and my over sensitive nose was reacting badly to the chemical fumes. It was not the best place to chat or get to know one another but subsequently we did meet each other again outside the medical library and the rest was history. Of course, the sad fact of life as a medical student was that we never had the time to go out or socialize much and most of our social contact was limited to the people hanging around the medical library. No wonder so many of our classmates ended up getting married to each other; a kind of social inbreeding.
Anyway as time went on we got to know each other more – and also our individual families. I remember meeting my future MIL – she was born in Beijing of missionary parents and I remember eating fantastic dumplings at family gatherings. Also part of MIL’s fond food memories were cong yu bing (葱油饼 scallion pancakes) and Zha Jiang Mian (炸酱面 Chinese minced pork noodles). Zha Jiang Mian is a very Beijing (Northern Chinese) dish. Growing up in South east Asia where most migrants were from Southern China, I never ate this noodle dish as a child. It is like a savory meat stew served with noodles, and probably worked well in the colder climes of northern China. It is probably the Chinese counterpoint to Spaghetti Bolognese. This is a dish of noodles tossed with a thick meat sauce made by frying ground pork with fermented soy bean paste. Interestingly, there is a Korean adaptation of this dish (jajangmyeon 자장면) which is made instead with diced pork belly and chopped vegetables like zucchini and radishes. The flavor is sweeter than the original Chinese dish because of addition of caramel into the black bean sauce.
I decided to try out a low carb version of the Chinese version of Zha Jiang Mian. This was slightly tricky as I had to adapt the recipe to substitute hoisin sauce which is a sweet sauce that contains a fair amount of sugar. Arrowroot flour instead of corn flour is also used as a lower carb thickening agent. Instead of the wheat flour noodle, I substituted shirataki noodles which is an extremely low carb form of noodles. Doing this would probably cut out 80% of the carbs in this noodle dish (typical bowl of Zha Jiang Mian is supposed to contain 66 g carbs).
I sat down with my parents after trying out this experiment. Dad and Mum had their meat sauce over regular wheat flour (Ban Mian) noodles while I had mine with shirataki noodles. Verdict was that is was a very flavorful dish and probably pretty close to the real thing. The sauce is a shade on the salty side, but this was lightened by the noodles and fresh vegetables.
From left: sesame oil, black rice vinegar, sriracha sauce, onion powder, peanut butter, black bean garlic sauce, dark soy sauce and ground white pepper.
LOW CARB ZHA JIANG MIAN (MINCED MEAT NOODLES)
(Serves 4 people)
- 500 g ground pork
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon arrowroot flour (meat marinade) plus 2 tbsp arrowroot flour (meat sauce)
- ½ tsp sesame oil (meat marinade) plus 1 tsp sesame oil (meat sauce)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- 3 slices young ginger, minced finely
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons black bean sauce
- 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp low carb peanut butter
(I used fifty50)
- 1 tbsp sugar substitute
- pinch of garlic/onion powder
- 1 tsp sriracha
- ½ tsp chilli oil (optional)
- pinch of ground white pepper
- 2½ tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 cup chicken stock/ water (I used chicken stock this time but in future will use water so that the sauce is less salty)
- 4 packets of shirataki noodles, drained and dry roasted
- 1 cup julienned carrots
- 1 cup julienned cucumbers
- 1/3 cup spring onions finely chopped
1. Marinate the pork with the following for 15 minutes: ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon arrowroot flour, ½ teaspoon sesame oil, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper.
2. Heat a tablespoon oil in your wok over medium heat and add the ginger and garlic, cooking for about a minute till fragrant, me add the marinated minced pork, browning it for about 5 minutes. marinated ground pork to the wok. Let everything caramelize together.
3. Add the chopped shiitake mushrooms and fry for another 2 minutes.
4. In a small bowl mix black bean sauce, low carb hoisin sauce, dark soy sauce, peanut butter, sugar substitute, onion/garlic powder, sriracha, chilli oil and pepper. Mix well until it forms a smooth consistency.
5. Add bean sauce to the meat, then add chicken stock, stirring everything together well. Lower the heat and cover the wok. Simmer the sauce for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Make a slurry with 2 tbsp arrowroot flour and 2-3 tbsp water. Pour into meat sauce and allow it to thicken further.
7. Stir in rice vinegar, and salt and white pepper to taste. Set meat sauce aside when sauce is thickened and reduced.
8. Prepare the shirataki noodles by draining, rinsing, then dry roasting in a non-stick pan.
9. Place shirataki noodles into 4 bowls and ladle over the meat sauce. Top with julienned carrots, scallions and cucumbers. Serve immediately.
Steps 2 – 7
The end product