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Ingredient: Sichuan Peppercorn (花椒)

9 Jun
Sichuan peppercorn

So what makes Sichuan cuisine so delicious?  The answer lies with its unique use of a special spice that produces a tingly, numbing effect, combined with spiciness, creates a singular taste no other regional cuisine can match.

Sichuan peppercorn, also known botanically as the outer pod of the tiny fruit from a plant called Zanthoxylum, used to be banned for import by the US government as it may carry a certain bacteria that is harmful to native citrus crops.

The ban has since been lifted, and I am happy to say that I just ordered a bag from an online spice shop. 

 Depending on its potency, I’d recommend all the first-time handlers with this spice to be cautious, as “a little (can go) a long way.”

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Ingredient: Preserved Vegetable, Zha Cai (榨菜)

26 May

Zha cai, out of the jar, not cut

So what is zha cai?  As its vaguely translated name suggests, it is a type of preserved vegetable.  The vegetable is a variant of mustard, sometimes referred to as Chinese mustard (no way!), and its leafy part is considered a rather fancy dish usually stir-fried with dried scallops and served at banquets.  

The root of this mustard is the part where zha cai comes from.  It is harvested and compressed down to yield all liquid, as “zha” in Chinese literally means compress.  It is preserved by salt and stored in clay jars.  The taste?  Crunchy and salty, which makes a great condiment for many things, such as the Sichuan style wontons

 Another famous dish zha cai is well known for is the pork zha cai noodles, as fried pork and zha cai is served over soup noodles.