The Mala Project | Cooking Sichuan in America Blog

Chengdu Challenge #15: Dumplings in Red Oil (Zhong Shui Jiao)

It’s All About the Sauce~~ If you’ve ever had dumplings in red oil at a real Sichuan restaurant then you know it’s all about the sauce. While every Chinese cuisine can claim a wonton, jaozi or siu mai of its own, only Sichuan floats its famous shui jiao in a sweet-hot special sauce. As such, it kind of blows all other dumplings out of the water. It’s hard to guess exactly what’s in that special sauce, besides chili oil, but you know it when you taste it. You also know you...

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...

Please Nominate The Mala Project

Saveur magazine is conducting its annual search for the best food blogs. I wouldn’t mind an award, but what I really want is more people who love Sichuan food to know about The Mala Project. It’s very hard for a new blogger to get the word out beyond her (and her friends’ and relatives’) circles. If you like The Mala Project, we Spicy Girls would be so appreciative if you could take one minute to nominate it for Saveur’s Blog Awards 2015, right here. Preferably in the Best New Voice category. Nominations...

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...

Chengdu Challenge #14: Xinjiang Cumin Lamb (Zi Ran Yang Rou)

The Mystery of ‘Sichuan Cumin Lamb’~~ Happy Year of the Sheep! No one in my family is a sheep, so this Chinese New Year just makes me think of food, and, more precisely, of lamb. It also gives me the perfect excuse to try to solve one of the biggest mysteries about Sichuan restaurants in America: Why do they always feature cumin lamb? Cumin lamb is not a Sichuan dish. Traditional Sichuan restaurants in Sichuan don’t serve lamb, and they rarely use cumin. And you won’t find a recipe for cumin lamb in any Sichuan cookbook. But every...

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...

Chengdu Challenge #12: Shui Zhu Beef (or Fish) (Shui Zhu Niu Rou)

A Sichuan Outlaw~~ Shui zhu, or “water-boiled” dishes, may be Sichuan’s most notorious food—feared and loved in equal measure. Shui zhu’s reputation as a dish for the daring precedes it. But those brave enough to dip into its sea of mala—chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorn—to fish out a piece of buttery soft beef (or pork, or fish) are rewarded with the realization that shui zhu is not nearly as lethal as its reputation. It was a shocking sight the first time I saw Chef Qing Qing make shui zhu beef at...

Chengdu Challenge #11: Dry-Braised Shrimp With Crispy Pork (Gan Shao Xia)

Unusual Juxtapositions Bring Unusual Compliments~~ In America, everything’s better with bacon on it. In Sichuan, everything’s better with crispy-brown ground pork. You might think, as I did, that big fresh shrimp don’t need the added attraction of a crispy pork topping. But you’d be wrong, as I was. This is a fantastic combination, bumped up by earthy-salty yacai (pickled mustard greens) and pickled hot chili peppers. It’s really like two dishes in one. First, you get your hands in there to remove the shells from the fat, juicy shrimp—licking the...

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...

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...

Chengdu Challenge #9: Bao (Steamed Foldover Buns)

Bow to the Bao~~ In my constant quest to fatten up my daughter without resorting to junk food, bao has been a go-to recipe. As a child who shuns all fried foods, most dairy and anything sweet, about the only fattening thing she loves is soft, yeasty bread. We discovered this at her first Thanksgiving dinner, when the only things she put on her plate were turkey and the Sister Schubert yeast rolls. She dug out the middle of the rolls, leaving the crusty exterior behind, and ate through as many as...

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Do you love Sichuan food and cooking as much as we do?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive notice of new recipes and articles from the blog as well as occasional news and promotions from The Mala Market, our Sichuan specialty food shop. (An average of two emails total per month.)

 

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Thank you!

Taylor & Fong Chong