If you’re a fan of Dan Dan Noodles but can’t fit the high fat content into your diet, this recipe is for you. It makes five large servings each with 39 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, 13 grams of fat, and 405 calories. The protein and fiber content makes this one of the most filling Dan Dan Noodles recipes you’ll find.
What are Dan Dan Noodles?
As one of the most popular Chinese Sichuan street foods, Dan Dan Noodles are typically thin noodles served with a spicy sauce made of preserved vegetables, chili oil, crispy pork, and toasted peanuts. According to Maggie Zhu, you’ll typically see the Dan Dan Noodle dish served in small bowls as a snack in Sichuan restaurants in China. Dishes there can be very soupy and very spicy, depending on the chef.
Here in the US, we’ve adapted Dan Dan Noodles to be more of a pasta dish with a not-so-spicy meat sauce atop noodles. And that’s probably closer to the version you’ll find in this recipe. As J. Kenji López-Alt said on his cooking show, there are millions of versions of Dan Dan Noodles. So I felt a bit more confident adapting this dish as opposed to something like my Thai Basil Ground Chicken.
What Makes A Kinda Healthy Version?
My recipe draws inspiration from a Southern-Asian fusion spot on our best Austin restaurants list, The Peached Tortilla. Dan Dan Noodles is one of the most popular dishes at The Peached Tortilla, and Chef Eric Silverstein has a cookbook with his recipe. You can see in the photo below that his version is definitely on the sauced pasta side as opposed to noodles in broth, which I prefer.
My version goes Kinda Healthy by using ground chicken and more of it as well high protein noodles, and reducing the fat content with powdered peanut butter and slightly less chili oil. I’ll cover more ingredient substitutions and things you could do to make your own in the post below.
Ingredients for Healthy Dan Dan Noodles
You will find a printable recipe card at the bottom of the post. But between here and there you will find ingredient notes, substitutes, and cooking tips. If you skip ahead and have a recipe question, jump back to this section. And if you don’t find an answer to your question here, leave it in the comments.
The Spicy Peanut Sauce
Traditional Dan Dan Noodles are made with Sui Mi Ya Cai (pickled mustard greens), which can be difficult to find in stores, especially here in Texas. While you can order it on Amazon, Kenji mentioned using sauerkraut as a substitute. This still provides the funky fermented flavor and slightly crunchy texture.
My recipe calls for powdered peanut butter, which is one of my favorite ingredients for adding peanut butter flavor with a fraction of the fat. Most recipes for Dan Dan Noodles call for three tablespoons of peanut butter (285 calories and 24 grams of fat), but the powdered peanut butter reduces that to 120 calories and 3 grams of fat.
You can of course use peanut butter or even tahini (sesame paste) instead. Or if you can handle a bit more fat in your dish, go half and half.
You’ll still get some fat from two tablespoons of chili oil. I used Lao Gan Ma, which is more of a chili crisp, but any chili oil will get the job done. You can even make your own chili oil. If you use a chili crisp, be sure to stir well and actually get some oil. The fat will be vital for making a creamy sauce.
This is where I really took liberties with my Dan Dan Noodles adaption. Traditional recipes use thin wheat noodles, but my version calls for a thicker fettuccine style noodle from al dente pasta company. This is the same pasta I used for my creamy sausage and mushroom carba-nada, in case you’re familiar.
It’s still a wheat noodle, and I think it has a great slightly chewy texture and soaks up sauce really well. It also cooks in three minutes, which is perfect timing for this recipe.
And on the nutrition facts side, it’s a star. Every two-ounce serving has 15 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and only 170 calories.
I typically order a 6-pack of this pasta on Amazon so I always have some on hand. If you’re looking for alternatives, you could always go with a chickpea pasta like Banza. Kenji mentioned using angel hair in a pinch, which Banza makes. You may also look at the hearts of palm pasta I used in my low carb Mongolian beef noodles recipe.
The Ground Chicken
Like I mentioned above, you’ll usually see ground pork in Dan Dan Noodles, but ground chicken is hard to beat when it comes to its protein to fat ratio. If you wanted to use pork, go with a lean ground pork like the 90/10 I used for my spicy ground pork stir fry.
My version also uses a whole pound of chicken as opposed to the half pound you’ll see in most recipes. This makes it a meatier noodle dish, but I think the ten ounces of pasta balances it out.
Tips for Cooking Ground Chicken
When it comes to cooking your protein, be sure to get some browning and don’t worry about overcooking. That’s kind of what you’re after here.
To get the most out of the Maillard reaction (browning), make sure the pan and oil are both hot, and the surface of the ground chicken is dry. I like to pat it dry with a paper towel before going in the pan.
And maybe most important of all, leave the chicken alone once it’s in the pan. Don’t flip to brown the other side until you’ve fully browned the first.
This browning adds tons of flavor and texture to your finished Dan Dan Noodles.
Bringing Everything Together
Once you’ve adequately browned the ground chicken, you can break it apart and finish cooking before adding the sauce to finish bringing your Dan Dan Noodles together. Like I mentioned earlier, the carba-nada pasta cooks in three minutes, which is about the perfect time for your sauce to cook. You want to get a little caramelization in the sauce without burning before adding some pasta water to finish.
Feel free to add a bit more pasta water if you prefer more broth-heavy Dan Dan Noodles. If you’re using another noodle like the hearts of palm that doesn’t require boiling water, you can use a broth in place of the pasta water. This would also be a good substitute if you wanted to make the ground chicken and sauce ahead of time or in bulk to pair with freshly cooked noodles later.
Serving Your Dan Dan Noodles
My recipe keeps it simple with scallions, roasted peanuts, and extra chili crisp on top. The Peached Tortilla’s dish comes with bean sprouts and julienned cucumber as well as the scallions and peanuts. They also give the option to add a 45-minute egg, which I would liken to something like sous vide soft boiled eggs.
Some recipes call for blanching greens like spinach or bok choy in the pasta water to serve with the finished dish, but I elected not to. Though it would be a great way to add even more volume to your Dan Dan Noodles.
With the reduction in chili oil, my Dan Dan Noodles are definitely on the milder side. You can spice things up with the added chili oil, but you could also add freshly cracked Sichuan peppercorns or a chili garlic sauce if you didn’t want to add more fat via chili oil.
Okay, I think that covers it. I hope you enjoy your Kinda Healthy Dan Dan Noodles! Be sure to let me know what you think in a recipe review or comment.
- 1 pound Ground Chicken (97/3)
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 10 oz Al Dente Carba-Nada Noodles*
- 1 cup Pasta Water
For the Sauce
- 1/2 cup (120g) Sauerkraut or Pickled Mustard Greens, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup (26g) Powdered Peanut Butter
- 1/4 cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chili Oil
- 2 tablespoons Hoisin
- 1 tablespoon Honey
- 1 tablespoon Rice Vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1/4 teaspoon White Pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Mix the sauce ingredients together and set aside.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Pat the ground chicken dry on both sides with a paper towel. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken and brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side, before breaking apart and fully cooking.
- Once the chicken is fully cooked, salt the pot of water and drop the pasta in. Cook for 3 minutes. (You want al dente pasta. Different pasta may have a different cook time.)
- While the pasta cooks, add the sauce to the cooked ground chicken and stir everything together. Let the sauce begin to caramelize but watch closely to avoid scorching.
- Once the pasta is nearly done, add a cup of the pasta water to the skillet, stirring everything together. You can add more if you like more broth in your noodles. Remove from the heat.
- Drain the remaining water and add the noodles to the skillet. Toss everything together and serve with toasted peanuts, scallions, and extra chili oil, if desired.
*See post above for noodle substitution notes.
Each serving has 9 WW SmartPoints (blue).
Nutrition Information:Yield: 5 Serving Size: about 9 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 405Total Fat: 13gCarbohydrates: 37gFiber: 10gProtein: 39g