The warm spice and citrusy aroma of Sichuan peppercorns can be totally addictive. The dark berry-hued peppercorns produce a tingly numbing sensation that wakes up your tongue; combined with fiery chilies, it's an effect known as ma la, or "numbing heat." But while ma la characterizes in many (though far from all) Sichuan dishes, its traditional uses are just the tip of the iceberg. From classics like dry-fried green beans and mapo tofu to amped-up chicken wings and burgers, we've got 20 great ways to make the most of the unique spice.
Hot and Numbing Xi'an Style Oven-Fried Chicken Wings
Smoky chilies, cumin, and anise combine with Sichuan peppercorns, cilantro, and scallions for these crispy, juicy oven-fried chicken wings. The key to their perfect crunch without having to break out the deep fryer? An overnight rest with baking powder and salt.
Sichuan Roast Leg of Lamb With Celery-Mint Salad
Sichuan cuisine is famous for its stir-fried lamb, combining the hot and tingly flavors of Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chilies with plenty of cumin and other spices. Why not take those very same flavors and rub them all over a glorious roast leg of lamb? The results are phenomenal.
Sichuan Peppercorn Burgers With Chili-Ginger Mayo and Cucumber Pickles
Inspired by Tibetan beef momo seasoned with the tingly heat of Sichuan peppercorns, these burgers are spiked with the fragrant spice, along with cumin, star anise, fennel, chili flakes, and brown sugar. A tangy chili mayo with plenty of fresh ginger and cucumber pickles round it out.
Rice Cakes With Chili Paste, Fermented Black Bean, and Sichuan Peppercorn
Sichuan peppercorns counter the heat of chili paste, while fermented black beans add savory flavor to this rice cake dish. Throw in some Chinese sausage and bok choy for good measure, and be sure to leave the rice cakes to cook in the skillet for a while, making some surfaces crispy and charred. You can buy rice cakes at most Chinese or Korean grocery stores.
Not a big tofu fan? If you can't get into the creamy, somewhat jiggly texture, try this unorthodox but delicious version of mapo tofu. It has the same mouth-numbing sensation from the peppercorns and hot chilies, and intense flavor from Xiaoxing wine, dark soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and fresh green onion. The dish comes together fast, just be sure to serve it with plenty of rice to give your mouth a break.
Sichuan-Style Asparagus and Tofu Salad
If you're preparing a Chinese feast, don't leave out this quick and easy side dish. Tender-crisp asparagus and firm tofu are tossed in a fiery-sweet Sichuan-style vinaigrette made with roasted chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. It's a flavorful and fresh combination that packs a punch.
Steamed Dumplings With Shiitake Mushrooms in Sichuan Soup
If you have some frozen dumplings handy, turn them into this flavorful soup in a snap. Add stock, some pantry staples, and scallions, dump in the steamed dumplings, and that's dinner. It's part dipping sauce, part soup, totally delicious.
Spicy Warm Silken Tofu With Celery and Cilantro Salad
This recipe is about as easy as it gets, but complex in its flavors, with a balance of heat, sweetness, and bracing acidity from chili oil, sugar, and Chinkiang vinegar. That vinegar, which can be found at pretty much any Asian grocer, has a fruity, almost sweet complexity akin to balsamic vinegar but with plenty of acidity. The salad on top consists of celery, scallions, and cilantro, and provides a really great contrast to the soft, warm tofu underneath.
Sichuan-Style Wontons in Hot and Sour Vinegar and Chili Oil Sauce (Suanla Chaoshou)
Suanla chaoshou are Sichuan-style wontons that come coated in an intensely aromatic sauce made with vinegar, garlic, and roasted chili oil. It's the sauce that brings on the contrasts with its almost overly intense flavor, thanks to sweet Chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce, and plenty of chili oil with crunchy bits of fried dried chilies.
Sichuan-Style Boiled Beef With Chili
Boiled beef slices is a Sichuanese dish in which lean beef, sliced and then coated in a protective cornstarch coating, is boiled in a stock with fermented chili bean paste and soy sauce. The beef cooks very quickly, in less than a minute, after which the meat is removed from the heat and topped with a mixture of toasted and minced dried chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorn. The spice blend is crumbly and almost crunchy, with a pleasant, lingering numbness.
Latkes With Sichuan Peppercorns
Take classic latkes to the next level with a dusting of Sichuan peppercorns. It's a crispy, salty, spicy dish that's further accentuated by cool sour cream and sweet applesauce, and makes a worthy appetizer or side dish any time of year.
Sichuan Shirataki Sesame Noodle Salad With Cucumber, Sichuan Peppercorn, Chili Oil, and Peanuts (Vegan)
Shirataki noodles are perfect for cold noodle salads, where their slippery texture helps keep each strand separate while simultaneously picking up plenty of flavor from a sauce of Sichuan peppercorn and chili-infused oil, black vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, and peanuts. It's a dish that packs so much flavor, even meat lovers won't complain that it's vegan.
Kung Pao Fish With Dried Chilies and Sichuan Peppercorns
In this variation on Kung Pao chicken, firm white-fleshed fish such as catfish or tillapia is marinated with soy sauce and white pepper, then deep fried until golden. Afterwards, it's stir-fried with classic Sichuan flavors: spicy dried chilies, mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, and garlic. The result is a perfectly spicy seafood dish that's far superior to take-out.
Crispy Kung Pao Tofu
If you'd rather go the vegan route, this meat-free version of the classic Sichuan dish will not disappoint. Hot, tingly, and packed with chunks of crispy tofu, peanuts, and celery, it's all crisp-on-crisp-on-crisp, with a heat that doesn't knock you out but slowly smolders.
Cold Sichuan Noodles With Spinach and Peanuts
In this version of the classic, a good chunk of the noodles is replaced with blanched spinach that is wrung dry then cut into thin, thin ribbons. They offer some flavor of their own, but they also pick up the chili oil and vinegar-based sauce perfectly, making every bite more flavorful.
Mongolian Stir-Fried Lamb With Cumin
To get the cumin flavor into the lamb, toast the spices first, then combine them along with some garlic and a touch of soy sauce into a paste and rub all over the meat. As the lamb cooks, the paste dehydrates and chars, forming a crisp, flavorful crust. Onions add sweetness, celery adds crunch, and dried roasted chilies bring heat and aroma.
The Best Vegan Mapo Tofu
A classic Sichuan dish in completely and unapologetically meat-free form. Using dried and fresh mushrooms adds complexity and texture to the fiery dish, making it every bit as good as—if not better than—the original.
Easy Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans (Gan Bian Si Ji Dou) Without a Wok
Gan bian si ji dou, or Sichuan-style dry-fried green beans with chilies and pickles, should be bright and light, featuring beans with blistered skins and snappy interiors. This version calls for broiling the beans instead of frying them in a wok, and then tossing them with chili, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, garlic, ginger, and chopped preserved mustard root.
Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Deeply savory, suggestively spicy, Taiwanese beef noodle soup is true comfort food. It's often hailed the national dish of the island, although Taiwan is not technically a nation. But you get the point: it's a quintessential hallmark of the island's cuisine, an immense source of pride. Yet it's easy enough to make in any kitchen, even with limited ingredients.
Spicy Stir-Fried Liver and Onions
For the liver lovers among you, add some spice to your liver and onions. Even if you're not a huge fan, this spicy and salty dish with chili bean paste, peppercorns, and ginger may win you over. Be careful not to over-cook your liver, and don't skimp on the oil.