When we visited Shan’s family in Urumqi, Xinjiang Region every meal included a lamb dish, whether we were eating at home, in a restaurant or having street food. Indeed Shan’s mother believed that a meal was incomplete without lamb. Typically it was served with noodles rather than rice and with lots of vegetables. The noodles were always freshly made by hand, even at home.
The prevalence of lamb reflects the easy availability of good quality lamb in that mountainous region and the middle-eastern influences on the cooking carried on by the Muslim Uighur community. Though we ate lamb every day for the 8 days we were in Xinjiang, no two meals tasted the same. Every home and restaurant had its own variation of this ubiquitous dish.
Shan’s recipe below is another of those very easy and quick recipes where you can use whatever vegetables you have to hand and adjust the balance of meat to vegetables and the spiciness of the seasonings to suit your personal taste. This version uses packet noodles or spaghetti and is ideal for a speedy family supper after a long day at work or for easy weekend entertaining.
Shan says: “This is a compromise recipe as I couldn’t make handmade noodles the size of spaghetti, so I just used spaghetti. Chinese pre-made noodles usually get soggy easily but it may be possible to get good quality noodles in an Asian supermarket in Ireland.”
Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti with Lamb – Xinjiang Ban Mian
Serves 4 – 6 people
- 300 – 800 g of lean lamb (depending on how meaty you want the dish to be)
- A good handful of string beans
- 1 fresh green and 1 fresh red chilli (or substitute a red and yellow or green pepper, or a mix of pepper and chillies if you don’t like it too spicy)
- One medium onion
- One small head of celery (thin and dark Chinese celery, available in Asian supermarkets is better if you can find it – it has a stronger flavour and a bit more bitterness, if not available use about 4 sticks of ordinary celery)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 large tomatoes
- White pepper powder (Hu Jiao Fen, 胡椒粉)
- Soy sauce
- Tomato paste/ puree
- Cooking oil – groundnut, sunflower or rapeseed oil
- Spaghetti to serve
- Cut the lamb into thin square slices.
- Cut the string beans into 2cm long strips.
- Cut the chilli/pepper into diamond shapes and the onion into thin slices or square shapes.
- If you find thin celery, cut the stalks to the same size as string beans; if it is normal thick celery, then cut to small cubes so its flavour is easier to get out.
- Cut the garlic into thin slices.
- Cut the tomatoes into wedges.
Noodle/spaghetti: Start by cooking the spaghetti as the main dish only takes few minutes to cook.
- Note that the entire cooking process for this dish uses high heat.
- Start by heating a wok and putting a generous amount (about 3 tbs) of oil in it. Wait until the oil is really hot.
- Add the lamb and stir-fry briskly to brown. Add a small amount of soy sauce, salt to taste and about 2/3 tea spoon of pepper powder. Stir-fry to mix and remove the lamb with a strainer or slotted spoon when it is cooked and set aside. This stage should only take a minute or two in all as the oil is very hot.
- Wipe out the wok, reheat it and add about 3 tbs of oil. When it is really hot, add your vegetables and garlic. Stir fry briskly until the tomato juice is cooked out. Add a dash of soy sauce, salt and sugar to taste and a good squeeze of tomato puree (or about half a small can of tomato paste). Taste the sauce to see if the flavour is ok and adjust seasoning if necessary,
- Return the lamb to the pan and stir fry for 30 seconds or so, then serve on a dish of spaghetti.
Variations to the dish:
You can replace lamb with beef.
You can use aubergine instead of, or in addition to, the green beans. Aubergine also helps to prevent high blood pressure and protect the cardiovascular system. When preparing the aubergine, wash it but do not peel it as most of the nutrients are in its dark purple skin (especially vitamin E, C and P (bioflavanoid)); Cut the aubergine into thin slices and place into a bowl of clean water to prevent it from becoming oxidised (otherwise it turns to black). Squeeze the water out before cooking it.*
You can also cook it as a vegetarian dish and double the amount of aubergine as it is rich in protein and calcium compared to other vegetables.
If you want it to taste a bit more middle-eastern, add some cumin seeds when cooking the lamb or aubergine..
*Note: The approach suggested by Shan works with Chinese aubergines which can be found in Asian supermarkets. With European aubergines, it is better to sprinkle the slices with salt and leave in a colander to allow excess moisture to drain out and pat therm dry before use.
I love the versatility of this dish which means it can be a handy way of using up left over vegetables and creating a riot of colour on the plate.
See my first attempt to try out this recipe in Exploring China – from Dublin, Ireland. I made it for a second time in late October, substituting mange touts for green beans and using green, red and yellow pepper and a small chilli to create lots of flavour but not too much spice.