Hand-cut noodles with mustard greens, vinegar and chilli


Oh, how we wish we had the skill and dexterity to make the famous pulled wheat flour noodles of China’s west and north. Called la mian (la here means ‘stretch’), it’s mesmerising watching guys (it’s invariably men – you need powerful arms) make these. They start by stretching the dough and folding it to line up the gluten strands, then what ensues is a miraculous succession of looping, pulling, doubling the dough back onto itself, then pulling again, until a pile of perfectly even-sized noodles lies waiting to be cooked. It’s beyond us, so we satisfy ourselves with knife-cut ones instead.

750 g (1 lb 11 oz/5 cups) strong plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra
125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) peanut oil
2 bunches (about 600 g/1 lb 5 oz) baby mustard greens, trimmed
4 spring onions (scallions), finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch of five-spice
chilli flakes, to taste
50 g (1 ¼ oz/ ⅓ cup) sesame seeds, toasted
chilli oil with sediment, finely chopped garlic, black rice vinegar and light soy sauce, to serve

To make the noodles, combine the flour and 435 ml (15 fl oz/1¾ cups) water in a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to just bring the dough together. Using your hands, mix the dough, adding a little extra water, a tablespoon at a time, until a soft, smooth dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until very smooth and elastic. Cover the dough loosely with a damp tea towel (dish towel) and rest for 40 minutes.

Cut the dough into four even pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough out on a well-floured surface to form a 48 x 28 cm (19 x 11 inch) rectangle. Scatter some flour generously over the surface of the dough, then fold the dough over onto itself several times until it measures about 10 cm (4 inches) in width.

Cut the roll into 1.5 cm wide strips – don’t cut the noodles too thin, or they will be hard to unroll. Using your fingers, lightly toss the noodles to unravel them, then place them on a tray and dust again with flour to stop them sticking to each other. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the noodles in batches and cook for 2–3 minutes, or until tender, then drain.

Heat 1½ tablespoons of the oil in a large wok over a medium–high heat, then add the mustard greens and stir-fry for 2 minutes, or until the leaves have wilted and the stems have softened. Add the noodles and toss to combine well. Divide the noodles and mustard greens among four large bowls, then top each with some spring onions and garlic. Add a pinch of five-spice and chilli flakes, to taste, to the middle of each bowl of noodles. Heat the remaining oil in a small saucepan until it is sizzling hot, then pour the hot oil over the spices in the bowls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with chilli oil with sediment, chopped garlic, vinegar and soy sauce, to add to the noodles as desired.

The Real Food of China
By Leanne Kitchen, Antony Suvalko