Category: Veggies

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...

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...

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...

Chengdu Challenge #21: Dry Pot Chicken (Gan Guo Ji)

My New Favorite Meal~~ “This is my new favorite restaurant!” my friend Carla used to proclaim almost every time we ate somewhere new in New York. That could be construed as fickle, but really it was just enthusiasm. I feel the same sometimes about these dishes—every one I cook is my new favorite. But this one, particularly, truly, is my new favorite recipe and is likely to stay that way for a while. Why? Because it’s more a method than a recipe, and because  it’s easily and infinitely adaptable to any ingredients...

Chengdu Challenge #16: Dry-Fried Green Beans (Gan Bian Si Ji Dou)

Old-School vs. New~~ Yes, I know it seems wrong to deep-fry green vegetables, but oh, it tastes so right. Gan bian si ji dou actually means dry-fried green beans, but almost everyone nowadays quickly deep-fries them. That’s how the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine teaches the dish, and that’s how I’ve always done it. But when I was researching the dish, I found that the recipe for gan bian si ji dou in Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook calls for dry-frying the green beans the old-school way, for more than two...

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...

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...

Chengdu Challenge #10: Mapo Doufu (Mapo Tofu)

The Queen of Mapo Doufu Recipes~~ Best tofu dish in the world? Mapo tofu, without doubt. You may be thinking that’s not saying much. But it is. In fact, forget that it features tofu. I’ll put this beefy, spicy, chili bean dish up against your favorite American beef-and-bean chili any day. I’ve been making mapo doufu—“pock-marked mother’s bean curd”—for years. It was one of the first dishes I learned from our brilliant chef Qing Qing, who taught Lotus Culinary’s cooking classes at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in the early...

What Should I Eat?: Or How to Feed a Chinese Girl in America

Leftovers, Greens and Rice~~ “What should I eat?” is my daughter’s standard greeting. Not “Hi,” “Good morning” or “What’s up.” When she comes home from school, home from a friend’s or just out of her bedroom, she starts the conversation with “What should I eat?” The question has evolved with her grammar over the past three years as she learned English, from “Wo keyi chi shenme?” to “Me eat what?” to “You have something to eat I like it?” and finally to perfect English. But the obsession with her next...

Chengdu Challenge #3: Yu Xiang Eggplant (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)

  ‘Fish Fragrant’ Husband Treat~~ This Sichuan classic is many people’s, including my husband, Craig’s, favorite Chinese dish. If dan dan noodles was my aha moment–You mean this is what real Chinese food actually tastes like?—yu xiang eggplant was his. We first had it on our first trip to Chengdu, in 2007, where despite all the amazing pork-centric food we gorged on, this vegetable dish stood out for its luxurious texture and perfect sweet-sour-salty-bitter-umami balance. We’ve had it many times since, both in Sichuan and at home in the U.S.,...