I was thrilled to be Freshly Pressed on my last post – that’s included in the WordPress editors’ daily picks. And welcome to new readers who liked the Vietnamese Chicken Curry post and have decided to stick around! I hope you enjoy the blog. Unfortunately Mr Lemur is away shooting a film so I am without both camera and photographer for a few weeks. Boo! For now, we will all have to put up with my iPhone photography. I know, it’s a hardship, but we soldier bravely on…

I came across black rice noodles in our local ethnic food store the other day and was intrigued. I love black rice but I don’t cook it very often as it is fairly time consuming and many of the uses I know for it are desserts. (I adore Malaysian pulut hitam, or black rice pudding with coconut milk, for instance, but I rarely make it myself.) I was immediately drawn to these deep black noodles. I knew they wouldn’t produce the exact satisfying chewyness of a black rice grain on the teeth but I figured they might combine the glutinous qualities of glass noodles with a deeper, wholegrain flavour.

So, what to do with these gorgeous looking noodles? Starting from the colour, I immediately thought of tofu and greens: think how pretty the combination of black, green and milky white would be in a bowl! Then I realised I wanted the deep red of a chili-based dressing to complete the chromatic picture. I was thinking of the many mouth-watering pictures on Asian food blogs I see of noodle dishes topped with deep crimson chili condiments. I decided on a Sichuan flavour profile, starting from the classic combination of Sichuan peppercorns, dried red chilies and sesame seeds and adding salt and sesame oil to make a head-clearing sauce to drizzle atop a soft and cooling base of noodles, tofu, watercress and cucumber.

The dish came out really well and it’s prompted me to have a teensy bit of a rant. (I apologise in advance if you don’t enjoy rants. I do this sometimes. You can skip to the recipe.) I read an article the other day that suggested we should go vegan half the time to save our planet’s diminishing resources. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this idea but it really crystallised for me, as an omnivore, how annoying I find the media framing of this issue. It reinforces the false idea that people eat meat every day, every meal and to eat a meat-free meal you’d have to “go vegetarian”. I think this is nonsense. For many people in the world, meat is a small proportion of the diet and even here in the meat-loving West, nobody thinks they’ve gone veggie if they eat a cheese sandwich for lunch. It shouldn’t be so unusual to make a non-meat pasta or curry a few times a week. So, getting back to the point, these Sichuan-spiced black rice noodles are suitable for my vegetarian and vegan readers but I hope they’re equally appealing to the meat-eaters.

Sichuan-spiced black rice noodles

  • 1 pack black rice noodles (250g)
  • 1 block firm tofu
  • a large handful of watercress or other dark greens
  • half a cucumber
  • 1 scallion / spring onion
  • a small handful of cilantro
  • thumb of ginger, chopped fine
  • 2x cloves of garlic, crushed
  • a tbsp chili bean paste
  • a glug of soy sauce
  • a tsp of black vinegar

For the chili oil condiment:

  • 1 tsp ground chilies
  • 1 tsp red Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1tsp sesame seeds
  • a pinch of salt
  • a generous glug of sesame oil

First make the chili oil: toast the Sichuan peppercorns and then the sesame seeds in a cast iron skillet until aromatic. Whizz in a mini prep with until finely ground, then stir in chili powder and salt. Pour into a bowl and add sesame oil until the powdered spices are well mixed in and you have a thick but pourable consistency.

Boil the noodles and then drain. Meanehile, prep your toppings: cut cucumber into matchsticks, slice scallion and pick cilantro leaves.

I tend to make this kind of tofu like scrambled tofu. Cut it into big cubes. In a wok or large frying pan, sauté the garlic and ginger in a little vegetable oil. Then add the tofu and stir fry, chopping th cubes in half or squashing them a bit. You want to end up still with decent sized chunks of tofu but to create some nice rough edges to collect sauce. Add the chili bean paste, soy sauce and vinegar and stir well. Add greens and wilt.

Now you’re read to assemble. Start with noodles in a large bowl, then ladle in tofu and greens mixture. Top with scallions, cucumber and cilantro and spoon over some delicious spicy oil.

Serves 2, generously.