Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Kimchi—What Else—Sichuan Pepper

Another item to look for when surfing Asian websites or walking through your nearest Asian market is Sichuan pepper.

Let’s start off by talking about what Sichuan pepper is not…

Sichuan pepper is NOT…

  • a chile pepper at all
  • actually from a pepper plant
  • closely related to either black pepper or the chili pepper
  • hot or pungent like black, white, or chili peppers
  • really a pepper at all
  • related to chili pepper
  • spicy hot like a chile pepper

So now that I’ve confused everybody by saying what Sichuan pepper is not, let’s find out what Sichuan pepper IS…

Sichuan pepper is perhaps the most important ingredient in Sichuan cuisine and is also commonly used in all sorts of Chinese cooking.

The spice actually comes from the prickly ash shrub, a member of the citrus family.

The seeds of the shrub have pinkish-red outer husks which can be dried and then either be used whole or ground into powder.

Sichuan pepper has an aroma that has been likened to lavender

As far as taste, Sichuan pepper has slightly lemony overtones and create a powerful mouth-numbing sensation similar to carbonated drinks.

Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Kimchi—The What Else—Spices—Dried Chiles

fn the last post I gave a list of sites where you could buy kimchee…

But some of these sites I found quite interesting.

So being the foodie that I am, I did some research on other spices and ingredients that you might be interested in so that browing through these Korean sites might not seem so overwhelming…

Let’s begin this shopping trip through the Asian market or Korean website by discovering the spices commonly used in Asian cuisine, beginning with dried chilies.

Chile peppers are a key ingredient in Asian cuisine.

But there are literally hundreds of varieties of chile peppers available, so how do you know which chile to use for what recipe?

Here are a few of the most common varieties typically found in Asian markets and on websites.

 Aleppo

  • Character…sweet and fragrant, fresh and fiery on the nose, but they’re not too hot
  • Country Most Relate….Syria and Turkey
  • Form…only available ground
  • Uses…great on pizza

Ancho

  • Taste…mild, smoldering heat
  • Same as…dried Poblanos
  • Texture…meaty texture
  • Flavor…rich
  • Uses…sauces

Árbol:

  • Also called ..Kung pao chiles
  • Form…usually found and used dried
  • Size…small, short, thin, and needle-like
  • Taste…intensely hot chiles
  • Uses…homemade hot sauces and spice mixes

Bird

  • Color…either red or green
  • Shape…very small and slender
  • Size…usually less than 1″ long
  • Taste…incredibly spicy

Guajillo

  • Form…:long and thin
  • Color…dark-red
  • Taste…hotter than anchos

Japanese

  • Color…rusty orange-red color with a bright sheen
  • Shape…slender and narrow with a pointed tip
  • Size…about 2″ long

Morita

  • Color…dark
  • Texture…like raisins
  • Flavor…-rich, sweet, and smoky

Pasilla

  • Shape…long and thin
  • Color…dark to the point of being jet-black
  • Taste…spicier than anchos, with a more brooding, chocolate-like character
  • Uses..moles and with beef

Urfa

  • Flavor…not-too-hot
  • Source…Turkey
  • Taste…dark, smoky, and redolent of prune and raisin
  • Uses…kebab mixes and with yogurt

 

Here are a few tips to remember when buying dried chiles…

  • Avoid peppers that are totally dry or look old or shriveled.
  • Buy small amounts when trying differenyt kinds of peppers to not only see which type of pepper you like best, but also to make sure that they stay fresh before you use them.  Note that chile actually have a much shorter shelf life than the eight months to a year stated on the package.
  • Darker colors—such as black and purple—typically mean richer flavors, as opposed to the more fiery red-hued specimens.
  • Look for dried chile that are floppy and moist, like raisins and other dried fruit in the market.
  • Make sure that you can bend and flex the peppers without breaking them.

 

 

De-Seeding…Before you can use your chilies in a recipe, you must de-seed them in order to make them less intensely hot.

The hottest parts of the pepper are closer to the stem, in the seeds,  and along the white membrane on the inside of the pepper

To de-seed the peppers, cut the stem off of the pepper and then simply remove these areas.

 

 

Other Forms…You may also find chile in other forms, in addition to these chiles that we’ve been talking about that can be found in packets or in the dried fruit section.

A few of these other options that will probably be available are chile flakes, chile paste, and chile oil.

 

Chile Flakes...Chile pepper flakes allow you to control the amount of heat in your dish and add small doses of pure heat.

To make your own chile flakes, toast árbol or pequin peppers over medium-high heat, tossing frequently, for about a minute and then pound them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle.

 

Chili Oil…To make your own chili oil, heat canola oil unti it’s almost smoking, then add whole árbol chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, and ginger. Remove it from the heat. Set the oil in a jar once it cools.

Heat and add more oil and more chilies whenever the jar starts to run low.

 

 

Chili Paste...Chili paste is a spicy concoction consisting of chiles, garlic, oil, and salt. The paste is mor versatile than actual chiles, as well as more convenient because it is ready to be used without any chopping or heating.

Chili paste allows you to get more flavor and heat in every mouthful without any ground-chili grit.

To make your own chili paste, soak dried chilies until they’re soft, and then blend them into a paste.

 

 

Chile Salsa…Soak chiles in a bit of hot water and blend them up into a salsa or hot sauce. Adding inegar or citrus juice extends shelf life.

 

Chile Vinegar...Add a few whole árbols or pequin chiles into your favorite bottle of vinegar. Let sit a week or two before using

 

 

 

Tips on Using Chiles in Cooking…

  • Add them to the oil before adding the other ingredients.
  • Be careful how many dried chiles you add. The more dried chiles you use, the hotter your food will be.
  • Chiles are usually not meant to be eaten whole, just to add flavor…kinda like bay leaves…