Sichuan food is known for being spicy all over China. But the spice is rather unique to Sichuan Province. It’s not merely lots of heat from chillies, but a numbing-cooling and very addictive heat given off by Sichuan Peppercorns. These little, red peppercorns will blast your senses with their tell-tale numbing-heat, known as “Ma La” (麻辣). This cold cucumber salad is the perfect introduction to Sichuan cuisine. The heat is milder, and well balanced with the cucumbers. The ingredients are also very simple, and rely deeply on freshness and quality. Thanks to the sugar and chikiang vinegar which is naturally slightly sweet, the salad also isn’t too spicy!
Recipe: Sichuan Cold Cucumber Salad
1 large cucumber (optional: Peeled)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black peppercorns
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, freshly ground in a pestle and mortar
1 tablespoon chikiang vinegar (or substitute with rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly minced chilli
Usage tip: It’s also absolutely essential to grind Sichuan Peppercorns fresh, reground sichuan peppercorns are almost always mixed with stems, seeds, black coloured peppercorns, and ground so far in advance that there’s very little flavour left. Even the oldest sichuan peppercorns will taste better freshly ground!
1. Cut the cucumber into long quarters, lengthwise. Then cut these into 10cm length sticks. Put these into a bowl.
2. Sprinkle the salt onto the cucumbers, then set aside. The salt will take out some of the water from the cucumbers, and make them a little more savoury at the same time.
3. Heat a pan on medium heat, add the peanut oil, garlic, minced chillies and sichuan peppers. Reduce heat to low, and gently stir / shake them about for around 1 minute. Take care not to let the garlic or minced chillies burn. Once you can smell the sichuan peppercorns, turn off the heat.
4. Add in the ground black pepper, minced garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar. Stir well until combined. The sichuan marinade is ready!
5. Drain off any excess from the cucumber bowl. Top with the sichuan marinade.
6. Use a spoon to mix and coat all the cucumbers with the marinade.
7. Cover with aluminium foil and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Tastes best when chilled overnight. Enjoy!
Buying tips for Sichuan Peppercorns
Be sure to only use deep red peppercorns, and remove loose stems or black seeds before using. Black coloured sichuan peppercorns also exist, but these carry almost no flavour or the “Ma La” that sichuan peppercorns are known for. By aware of “red dyed” sichuan peppercorns – soaking in hot water will let you know instantly whether it’s a natural red, or a colour added red.
Image: Helen Gravy
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