Loosely inspired by Sichuanese dan dan noodles, this saucy, spicy, satisfying, and meatless recipe starts with tofu that’s been torn into small crumbles, then seared hard on the stove. Don’t be afraid to go full Hulk on the tofu as you squeeze out every bit of water. You’re going to be obliterating it anyway, and getting out as much moisture as possible is critical to achieving the final ground-meat-like texture.
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¼ cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. light or dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. tahini
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. black (Chinkiang) vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. store-bought chili crisp, plus more for serving
4 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced into rounds
½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1½ tsp. Morton kosher salt, divided, plus more
1 14-oz. block extra-firm tofu, drained
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 1″ piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
10 oz. fresh ramen or dried wheat noodles
Whisk soy sauce, brown sugar, tahini, sesame oil, black vinegar, 1 Tbsp. chili crisp, and ½ cup water in a small bowl or measuring glass until sugar is dissolved. Set sauce aside.
Toss cucumbers, rice vinegar, and 1½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or 1 tsp. Morton kosher salt in a medium bowl to coat. Let sit, scrunching with your hands every few minutes, until cucumbers are softened and lightly pickled, about 10 minutes. Drain and set pickled cucumbers aside.
Wrap tofu in a clean kitchen towel. Gather ends of towel together and squeeze with your hands over sink to extract as much liquid as possible. (Don’t worry if the tofu breaks apart—it’s going to get crumbled up anyway.)
Crumble tofu into a medium bowl (it should resemble cooked ground meat with some larger pieces). Sprinkle with cornstarch and 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal or ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt; toss with your hands to evenly coat tofu.
Heat 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high. Arrange tofu crumbles in a single layer in pan; reserve bowl. Cook tofu, undisturbed, until golden brown underneath, about 5 minutes. Toss and continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until tofu is golden brown and crisp all over, about 4 minutes more. Transfer tofu back to reserved bowl.
Add remaining 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil to same skillet and reduce heat to medium-high. Add mushrooms and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are browned and shallot is translucent, about 5 minutes; season with salt. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return tofu to pan and add reserved sauce; bring to a simmer. Cook until sauce is slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions. Drain and divide among bowls. Ladle saucy tofu over noodles and top with reserved pickled cucumbers and more chili crisp.
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