Tuesday, May 15, 2012

All-purpose Sichuan stir-fry sauce



I make a lot of vegetable-heavy stir-frys, and my preferred method of seasoning them is with Sichuan condiments. Sometimes I just wing it, adding dashes of toasted sesame oil and rice wine as I go along, but lately I've been mixing up a quick, all-purpose sauce that I add to the vegetables at the very end of their cooking process, when they're already tender and just need to soak up some flavor. If I have extra, I simply transfer it to an airtight container where it will wait for me until I make my next stir-fry.

This sauce has all the flavor bases covered: it's full of rich umami from the soy; sweet from the brown sugar; sour from the vinegar; and hot from the spicy fermented bean paste. The potato starch (whose silky texture I prefer to gloppier cornstarch) thickens it up beautifully, creating a rich mouthfeel. Best of all, the sauce is neutral enough to go with pretty much any vegetable, although my favorite application for it is with eggplant.

To use, mix up the sauce, then fry your vegetables in a wok along with some aromatics: ginger, garlic, shallot, or whatever you prefer. You can add tofu, meat, anything you like in your stir-fry. About five minutes before everything is finished cooking, add the sauce, stir well to incorporate, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the sauce is thick and glossy.


All-Purpose Sichuan Stir-Fry Sauce
Yields enough sauce for one large stir-fry or two smaller ones

*Note: visit your local Asian grocery before making this recipe: many of the ingredients are not available at the supermarket.  

Ingredients:

2 tsp. Chinkiang vinegar
2 tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine
3 tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 tbsp. fermented broad bean chili paste
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. potato starch

Preparation:

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, using a whisk to make sure everything is well combined.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lunch, by way of India

Cauliflower is one of my very favorite vegetables, but somehow there's been a severe lack of cauliflower coverage on the site—in fact, not since my very first blog post over four years ago have I talked about this crucifer. Well, it's high time that's corrected.

My favorite way to prepare cauliflower is to roast it at a high temperature. If you're used to soggy, bland cauliflower, likely served steamed perhaps at some point in your childhood, then you wouldn't even recognize it roasted: it becomes golden, crisp-tender and incredibly rich in flavor, much like a roasted potato.

I usually go one of two routes when roasting my cauliflower: the Mediterranean, almost Proven├žal one, in which the cooked vegetable is tossed with capers and parsley and topped with toasted breadcrumbs; or the Indian one, in which the cauliflower is accented with warm, aromatic spices like cumin, coriander and mustard seed.


Cauliflower is an integral part of the cuisine in India, a country where over 30% of population is vegetarian. Aloo gobi, or potatoes and cauliflower in a curried stew, is probably the best-known such dish in this country, but other popular cauliflower dishes include cauliflower fritters and cauliflower and mung bean stew.


It's for that reason that I often turn to India when roasting this vegetable: simply tossing it in a mixture of dried spices, and sometimes throwing in some spicy chiles, before letting it get browned and toasty in a hot oven. That's what I did today; topped with yogurt and sprinkled with fresh cilantro, it made a tasty lunch.



Indian-Spiced Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 3 - 4 as a side dish

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 jalape├▒os or similar green chiles, seeds intact, halved lengthwise and sliced into thin half moons
2 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
Salt to taste, about 1 1/2 tsp.
Plain yogurt, for serving (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving (optional)

Preparation:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. Combine all ingredients in large bowl and toss, coating all the cauliflower evenly with oil and spices. Turn out onto a large sheet tray and roast until cauliflower is tender and well-browned, about 20 - 25 minutes. Serve as is or topped with plain yogurt and chopped cilantro.