The Mala Project | Cooking Sichuan in America Blog

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Fish in Chili Bean Sauce (Pixian Douban Yu)

Fish-Fragrant Fish~~ As you can see in the photo of fish in chili bean sauce, this long, lithe Spanish mackerel didn’t fit on my serving tray. Nor did it fit in the wok; even though I finally wrestled it into the wok, I had to be content to let its steely silver tail pop out from under the tin wok lid. But Fong Chong likes her fish “to have taste,” so we always opt for mackerel over the shorter, easier-to-handle, milder red snapper (the only two fresh whole-fish choices we can...

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Sichuan Cucumber Three Ways: Hot-and-Sour, Mala and Sesame (Pai Huang Gua)

Cool as a (Spicy) Cucumber~~ Sichuan knows how to treat a cucumber: with spice! Here are three cucumber preparations, using three different forms of chili pepper, and resulting in three very different tastes. The first is hot-and-sour and similar to a Western quick pickle with the addition of pickled or fresh red chilies. The second is mala, the smacked cucumber smacking strongly of that incomparable toasty chili and tingly Sichuan pepper taste that makes mala so addictive. And the third is so flavor-packed with chili oil, sesame paste and yacai preserved vegetable that it...

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Inspired by Red Cook’s Red-Cooked Pork (Hong Shao Rou)

Delicious Pork Belly and a Cookbook and Dutch Oven Giveaway~~ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve red-cooked something. I’ve red-cooked the traditional pork belly many a time and have also tried red-cooking pork shoulder, chicken thighs and beef short ribs. But I’ve never settled on a favorite red-cooking recipe or method. Perhaps because I’m not Chinese, and my mom (or other family member) did not hand one down to me. But I have to have one. Because I have to pass the family red-cooking recipe down to my Chinese daughter....

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Chengdu Challenge #28: Hot-and-Sour Eggplant Salad (Suan La Liang Ban Qie Zi)

Eggplant, a Girl’s Best Friend~~ What to send to school in your daughter’s lunchbox when she’s changing high schools as a sophomore and facing a lunchtime cafeteria where she knows no one and has no one to eat with? Her favorite vegetable, of course. The vegetable that makes her feel happy as she eats it no matter what is going on around her or how alone she feels. For Fong Chong, that vegetable is eggplant. Now, I’d rather go over there and eat lunch with her in that crowded school...

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Spreading the Sichuan Love: Chengdu Taste

Coming to a City Near You? We Ask the Owners~~ When it’s silent for too long on this end, you know it means Fong Chong and I have been traveling or, in this case, spending our summer in Northeast Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, America’s most progressive Chinese enclave. Without a kitchen while we play in the sun, hang with dear old friends, and Fong Chong goes to summer school, we use the time off from cooking Sichuan to eat other people’s Sichuan cooking and get newly inspired....

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Cooking With The Godmother: Lao Gan Ma Black Bean Chicken

“Mom Recipe”~~ My blog is all about cooking “authentic” Sichuan food. But my definition of authentic doesn’t mean always using specific recipes, it just means cooking Sichuan food the way it would be cooked in Chengdu. So I do not feel guilty about this shortcut recipe for black bean chicken, since I know that people in Sichuan cook this way and would eat this in a heartbeat. People all over China—and increasingly the world—love Lao Gan Ma and cook with her often. My ode to The Godmother—China’s Best Chili Oils and...

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Chengdu Challenge #27: Gong Bao Chicken With Cashews (Gong Bao Ji Ding)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Kung Pao~~ The Mala Project turns two years old this month. It hasn’t made me rich or famous (far from!), but that wasn’t the goal. The immediate goal when I started it was to be a better mom to my immigrant daughter by being a better Sichuan home cook. I did it in blog form because I thought that if I committed publicly I’d be far more likely to stick with it. And it worked! Two years on, I’m a much better Chinese cook and...

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Chengdu Challenge #26: Pork Rib Noodle Soup With Sichuan-Style Broth (Sichuan Paigu Mian)

My Favorite Mistake~~ This is one of those recipes that is the result of a beautiful mistake. I was merely attempting to make Sichuan-style stock when I ended up with an entire soup. My daughter has been mostly deprived of one of her favorite foods—homemade soup—because I don’t particularly like or crave soup and just don’t ever think about making it. She grew up in China eating freshly made wonton soup every morning for breakfast at school. I grew up in Oklahoma eating Campbell’s chicken noodle soup out of a can—and...

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Chengdu Challenge #25: Yu Xiang Pork (Yu Xiang Rou Si)

This Is Not Pork in Garlic Sauce~~ I guess I should have put a fully English translation in the title of this dish, yu xiang pork, but I’m annoyed by the one it is normally given in the U.S.: pork in garlic sauce. Yu xiang is not a garlic sauce. The literal translation, fish-fragrant pork, is just as misleading. The yu xiang flavor has no fish ingredients, nor any fish smell or taste. However the sauce originated as one for fish, so the name stuck for anything that later got favored with the...

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Chengdu Challenge #24: Sichuan Crispy Duck (Xiang Su Yazi)

Lucky Duck~~ Happy Year of the Monkey! Chinese New Year calls for lucky food, food that calls down health, wealth and happiness for the new year. But be careful what you wish for. The Chinese eat dumplings shaped like gold ingots, whole fish because the word for it sounds like the word for surplus, long noodles to symbolize long life, and a whole chicken to represent family togetherness. I’m especially interested in laying the groundwork for family happiness and togetherness in the coming year, so I wanted to include the...

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Chengdu Challenge #23: Tiger Skin Peppers (Hu Pi Qing Jiao)

Culinary Travel Week~~ Above is a photo of one of my most memorable meals ever in Chengdu. What you see is a big plate of tiger skin peppers accompanying a quintessential gong bao (kung pao) chicken. What you don’t see is that this was in a restaurant with a Cultural Revolution theme. There’s a recent trend of Cultural Revolution restaurants in China—and even in the San Gabriel Valley in the U.S.—but this was 2007, and this restaurant was as much about memory as kitsch. The owner had been sent to the...

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Inspired by the SGV’s Chengdu Taste: Chengdu Fried Rice (Chengdu Chao Fan)

Fong Chong Can Cook~~ Of the many things that inspired us on our many visits to the famed Chengdu Taste in the San Gabriel Valley this past summer, the simplest—and simplest to recreate—was their Chengdu Fried Rice. It has just three main ingredients: eggs, scallions and yacai. Their version took our favorite style of fried rice—loaded with lots of big chunks of egg—and supercharged it with lots of yacai, Sichuan’s go-to preserved vegetable. Yacai doesn’t have the sour bite or texture of a pickle, like the better known “Sichuan preserved...