Pear with Peppercorns

Pears with PeppercornThis post is more about a concept than a “dish”.  In fact, to call this a “side dish” feels wrong somehow.  It is, however, something that shows up on our lunch-time table with alarming frequency and, therefore, probably deserves some mention.  As the title indicates, it is pears (in this case sliced) dusted with peppercorns (in this case pink).  That’s all; no fancy technique, no complicated spicing scheme.  Just simple and tasty.  So why write about it at all?… 

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Mapo Tofu

Ma Po TofuSunday’s lunch was a big pile of Sichuan-style food.  Yay!  This main dish is what we cooked to accompany the Dan Dan Noodle, that I mentioned earlier.  Mapo tofu is pretty much a classic.  Hot bean paste is cooked together with ground pork and a grip of oil to really develop some spectacularly rich flavors.  Tofu and, for my version, leeks and mushrooms are simmered in the infused oil and chicken stock to blend and further develop the flavors.  One of the things that I really respect about this tofu dish is that it makes no attempt to be vegetarian.  The originator obviously recognized that, if heavily spiced tofu was good, the same tofu cooked in meat sauce would be better.  The end result is a dish that is very much comfort food.  It is rich, big, and you don’t have to eat a ton of it to fill up…. 

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Dan Dan Noodle

Dan_Not enough can possibly be said about the merits of this oddly named and fiercely flavored Sichuan dish.  Like a lot of the Sichuan dishes that I have run into, this one is a oil-based, chili-fueled piece of culinary perfection.  Chili oil and black vinegar create the foundation for the sauce, which is used quite sparingly.  We prefer to accent our sauce with plenty of Sichuan pepper, which provides an astringent and numbing quality that is a type of flavor, I guess.  Ground pork is a pretty common topping and rounds out this richly flavored and wickedly spiced  household favorite.  The blend of flavors in the sauce are such that they really deserve fresh noodles in order to really shown them off, but dried egg noodles will do in a pinch.  Wider noodles work better, I think…. 

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Spiced Habanero Pepper Sauce

Habenero Pepper SauceI have an unbalanced relationship with habanero chilis.  I love the flavor, but they are simply way  too hot for me to deal with let alone subject anyone else too.  The problem is that they really are unique in their flavor and pretty hard to live without in the types of dishes that call for them, primarily dishes from the Caribbean and West Africa.  The solution that I have adopted in dealing with these orange bundles of flaming flavor is to build a sauce that gets the flavor I want, and then use that in my cooking.

This sauce is one such example, although it contains a lot more flavors than just habanero.  Here, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg provide a backdrop for the heat contributed by the crushed black pepper and the habanero.  A little bit of rum and the tartness of cider vinegar finish off the flavor profile.  In making this, I use pickled habaneros because, frankly, fresh ones frighten me.  I think next time I make it, I will give the fresh ones a shot.  When adding the chilies, simply adjust the number used to the upper limit of your heat tolerance.  You want the sauce to be pretty hot and the heat from the habanero will settle down a little with time, so be a little more adventurous than you feel is prudent.  Oh, make sure to be careful in handling the chilies.  In fact, don’t handle them at all.  They really are insanely hot and the juice, once it gets on your hands can play havoc with eyes and other sensitive areas.  Remember, safety first…. 

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Soba Noodles with Peanut and Chili Sauce

Soba with Peanut and Chili SauceSoba noodles are typically eaten cold, with some kind of dipping sauce.  In this case, I just took the easy route and decided to just plate the noodle with the sauce.  After I started heading down the road of sloth, I went all in; the sauce to go with the noodles is particularly idiot-proof.  It requires no cooking and contains four ingredients, all of which come out of either a bottle or a jar.  Despite the relative simplicity, this dish does pretty well in the taste category.  There is not a lot of subtly, just a blast of vinegar and chili flavor with a bit of peanut to bring it back in line.  I think that you really need some form of garnish to compete with the sauce and I found that sliced scallion provided a hint of something natural and kept the dish from being monotonous. … 

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