Cumin Tofu Noodles (Vegan)

Homemade hand-pulled noodles and crispy fried tofu tossed in a cumin-based chili oil sauce. This one is made to impress.

This dish is my plant-based take on “Cumin Lamb Noodles” served at the New York City sensation Xi’an Famous Foods. And I have to say: cumin and chili oil is seriously such an incredible and under-used combination.

These hand-pulled noodles are chewy and springy unlike anything you’ve ever had. Owing roots to China, these are also known as La Mian (拉麵). Making these kind of noodles is an art-form on its own, and can take on very complex methods. Today I’m showing you perhaps the most simple version, using the simplest ingredients and the least active time.

Of course, you don’t have to make fresh hand-pulled noodles every time you want this. You can use store-bought wide wheat noodles like “knife-cut noodles” (刀削麵) and easily make this for a weeknight meal. But if you do end up making the whole recipe, I’m sure somebody in your life is going to be very happy.


Cumin Tofu Noodles (Vegan)

4 from 41 votes
Recipe by George L. Course: DinnerCuisine: ChineseDifficulty: Medium
Servings

3

servings
Prep time

3

hours 

20

minutes
Cooking time

20

minutes

Homemade hand-pulled noodles tossed with crispy fried tofu and a cumin-based chili oil sauce. This one is made to impress.

Ingredients

  • Fresh Noodles (or use ~400 g wide wheat noodles)
  • 240 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour

  • 120 grams (1/2 cup) water

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

  • vegetable oil, for coating

  • Fried Tofu
  • 200 grams (1/2 block) firm tofu

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Spice Blend
  • 1.5 tablespoons cumin seeds

  • 1 tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorns

  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds

  • Stir-Fry
  • 4 tablespoons chili oil (preferably homemade)

  • 1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons shaoxing wine (or mirin)

  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced

  • 7 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 inch ginger, minced

  • 3 scallions, chopped

  • 20 grams (4-5 sprigs) cilantro, chopped

  • 1 pinch MSG (optional)

  • vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

  • Make the Dough. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Then slowly stream in the water while mixing (a pair of long chopsticks is my preferred tool for this). Once all the water is added, use your hands to gather and knead until a rough dough forms. You do not need to smooth out the dough right now, just cover the bowl with a plastic wrap or towel and let the gluten relax for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes of resting, knead the dough until smooth. The gluten should have relaxed significantly now — smoothing out the dough should only take 1-2 minutes. Roll out the dough and shape it into an oval about 1 centimeters thick. Generously coat both sides of the dough with vegetable oil and cover again with plastic wrap. Let it rest at room temperature for 2-3 hours.
  • Make the Noodles. Before pulling the noodles, make sure you already have a large pot of boiling water ready. Using a sharp oiled knife, slice the dough into about 3 centimeter wide strips. Note: when you’re just starting out, I recommend working in batches of 3-4 noodles. Cover the noodles that you haven’t pulled yet with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. For each strip, pick it up from both ends and swiftly stretch it out. Once you’ve pulled the noodle to an arm-span’s length, fold it over and gently slap it against the tabletop to extend a little more. Quickly work through your batch of 3-4 noodles, and drop them in the boiling water before they have a chance to spring back. Note: the ends of the noodle are usually a little thicker. You can choose to pull off the ends, or try to flatten/shape them moments before you drop the noodle in the water. The latter takes a little more skill. For the best textural and aesthetic purposes, I suggest removing the ends. Cook the noodles for 1-2 minutes, or until chewy and tender. Note: For this recipe, I suggest cooking the noodles no more than 1 minute. You should deliberately undercook them so they’ll achieve perfect texture after the stir-fry. Toss the cooked noodles with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent sticking.
  • Prepare Spice Blend. You can do this and other mise en place while the noodle dough is resting. Add cumin seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, and coriander seeds to a dry pan. Toast over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar & pestle (or spice grinder) and pound/grind coarsely. Set aside. Note: Alternatively, you can use pre-ground spices. However, their flavors are a lot less pungent than toasted and freshly-ground spices. Use 3 tablespoons of ground cumin, 1-2 teaspoons ground Sichuan pepper, and 2 tablespoons of ground coriander.
  • Prepare Tofu. Today I’m using regular firm tofu. Note: you can also use the freeze and thaw method as outlined in my Crispy Mongolian Tofu recipe to achieve an even “meatier” effect. Using a heavy object or a tofu press, press the tofu down for at least 15 minutes, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Pull the tofu apart into little irregular oblong pieces with your hands. Note: As opposed to knife cuts, this method to creates much more surface area that will crisp up during frying. Dust and toss all the pieces in cornstarch to evenly coat.
  • Fry the Tofu. In a pan/wok, heat up a generous amount of vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, fry the tofu pieces until golden-brown and crispy. Remove from the oil with a mesh sieve and allow excess grease to drain off. Set aside for now.
  • Prepare Stir-Fry. Prepare all the vegetables and set aside. In a bowl, combine the chili oil, black vinegar, sugar, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and shaoxing wine. Mix well and set aside as well.
  • Make the Stir-Fry. Start by heating ~1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a wok/pan over medium-high heat. Add ginger & garlic and fry until fragrant, about 30-45 seconds. Add yellow onions along with the spice mix (cumin, sichuan pepper, coriander). Fry and toast for another 1-2 minutes before adding back the fried tofu, followed by the prepared sauce and cooked noodles. Note: remember to pre-cook the noodles if you are using store-bought. Toss to thoroughly combine, then shut off the heat and add scallions and cilantro. Season to taste with salt (and MSG if desired). Toss again to mix. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • Noodle of Choice. Nothing beats a fresh batch of springy hand-pulled noodle for this recipe. However, if you do end up using store-bought noodles, try to look for wide Chinese wheat noodles like “Knife-cut Noodles,” or 刀削麵.
  • Hand-Pulled Noodles. You can cut the noodles however thick or thin you like — this is pretty much a universal dough. If you want to make extra wide noodles (like biang biang noodles), you can pre-divide the dough into 3 halves, and pull those once rested.

Did you make this recipe? I’d love to see your recreations!

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