Category: Ingredients

Announcing The Mala Project SHOP: Sichuan Specialty Products, Direct From Sichuan

Friends and Family Discount~~ Fong Chong and I are very excited to  announce that we have opened an online Mala Project SHOP [later renamed The Mala Market] full of high-quality Sichuan specialty products and ingredients sourced direct from Sichuan. When I started this blog about cooking authentic Sichuan food in America, my goal was to learn to cook for my new daughter from China and make her American life more palatable. I called my efforts the Chengdu Challenge, because I knew both the cooking and the sourcing of real Sichuan ingredients would be...

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...

Roasted Potatoes in Black Bean Sauce

Food52~~ I promise this is my last post about chili oil for the foreseeable future, but I had to share this one because I’m so happy that it’s on Food52, the absolute best food site/blog/community for recipes. My Chili Oil #3 features black beans and crispy shallots. The preserved black soybeans (douchi) make it particularly rich and intense. They make a statement. But even so, this oil has multiple uses—as a stir-fry sauce for clams (or chicken) with black beans; mixed with soy sauce as a noodle sauce; as the...

Making Hong You #2: Crispy Shallot Chili Oil

Homemade Lao Gan Ma~~ My pursuit of the perfect chili oil leads me to the conclusion that there is not just one. I like a pure, chili-flavored chili oil for most cooking, but after consuming so much Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp and similarly fancy artisan chili oils I  bought from a street  vendor in Sichuan, I’ve decided I need to up my game with homemade chili oils. So here I give you Crispy Shallot Chili Oil. It packs a ton of flavor, but still not so much that...

Meeting Lao Gan Ma, “The Godmother”: China’s Best Chili Oils and Sauces

Godmother to the Rescue~~ Eleven-year-old Fong Chong had been in the United States for a week in February 2011 and had found almost nothing she liked about it. Everything was foreign and strange in the extreme—the language, the food, her house, her parents. Now she was having dinner with people who looked like her and talked like her, but still it was weird. The food these college girls had made for her was familiar, at least—sweet-and-sour ribs, red-braised pork—and somewhat comforting, but Fong Chong remained quiet and standoffish, unsure about everything,...

Chengdu Challenge #13: Kung Pao Lotus Root (or Potato) (Gong Bao Ou Pian)

The Unbearable Easiness of Real Kung Pao~~ Everybody knows kung pao chicken—called gong bao ji ding in China—but did you know that you can kung pao other foods as well? My personal favorite vegetable given the gong bao treatment is lotus root, a mild, crunchy, stunningly beautiful vehicle for the mala-meets-sweet-and-sour sauce adorned with home-fried peanuts. (Now, admittedly, fresh lotus root is somewhat difficult to find in the U.S. outside Asian markets, so feel free to substitute potatoes for an equally delicious if less photogenic dish using the exact same method.) Dare...

Making La Jiao Jiang (Hot Chili Sauce)

Perfect Pickled Peppers~~ My 15-year-old daughter is a chili fiend. Just like her mom. Also just like me, in U.S. restaurants she bypasses the sriracha and goes straight for the sambal oelek. Made by the same folks (California’s Huy Fong Foods) that make Thai-style Rooster sriracha—America’s favorite Asian hot sauce—their Indonesian-style sambal is a thicker, purer chili experience. It is nothing but chili, salt and vinegar (plus preservatives and a thickener) and as such is close in taste to Sichuan’s pickled peppers, pao la jiao, and a better match for Chinese food...

Making Hong You (Chili Oil)

 Facing Heaven in a Bowl of Chili Oil~~ Chili oil is a must-have ingredient for Sichuan cooking, and particularly for sauces that go on “cold dishes,” such as noodles and chicken, that are some of the cuisine’s most loved snacks and starters. It doesn’t make sense to buy your everyday chili oil (and for my family it is every day) when you can so easily make it yourself and control the type of oil, the quality and heat of chili flakes and the freshness. Just do a taste test compared to...

Sourcing Pixian Doubanjiang (Chili Bean Paste)

Pixian Doubanjiang: The Soul of Sichuan Cuisine~~ If Sichuan pepper and chili pepper are the heart of Sichuan cuisine, then doubanjiang is the soul. The secret weapon in twice-cooked pork, mapo doufu and scores of other Sichuan dishes, douban is little known outside China—and the authentic version is little known outside Sichuan. Asian cuisines have various fermented bean pastes/sauces, usually made with yellow or black soy beans. But Sichuan’s version is made with dried fava beans, also known as broad beans, mixed with fresh red er jin tiao chili peppers and salt (and...

Sourcing Hua Jiao (Sichuan Peppercorn)

My Favorite Buzz: Sichuan Peppercorn~~ “My mouth is sleeping,” Fong Chong said as she worked her way through a plate of mala-flavored cabbage stir-fry. “But she opens and lets me eat.” And there you have it in a nutshell, the addictive power of Sichuan pepper. If there is one taste most closely associated with Sichuan cuisine, it is Sichuan peppercorn, the numbing spice. The bride of the chili pepper in many Sichuan dishes, it is the má—numbing—to chili pepper’s là—spicy hot—in the word málà, which is practically synonymous with Sichuan food....

Spice Shopping in Sichuan

A Spicy Girl Shops for Spices~~ I just returned from a trip to Chengdu (and Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai). I never get enough of Sichuan, which may explain why I always try to bring all its goodies back with me. This is just some of the Sichuan spicy stuff I stuffed in my luggage, bought at Chengdu’s jaw-dropping wholesale spice market, its fascinating supermarkets  and wet markets and a sidewalk artisan food stall with the best sauces on earth (really!): Three kinds of freshly dried Sichuan chili peppers, or la...

Sourcing Zhenjiang Vinegar (Chinkiang Vinegar)

Zhenjiang Vinegar: Accept No Substitutes~~ If I had to choose just one Chinese ingredient that everyone should have in their pantry (other than Chinese-made soy sauce, of course), it would be Zhenjiang black vinegar. In our household we use as much Chinese black rice vinegar as soy sauce. We even use as much Zhenjiang vinegar as chili sauces and oils, which is saying something. In fact, the three mixed together are our go-to dipping sauce for dumplings. And many Chinese use just black vinegar as their dipping sauce of choice....