food for thought

by michelle

Archive for the ‘spicy’ Category


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New York’s second-largest Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, is worth a visit. It really feels like you’ve been transported to China. We headed for the Golden Shopping Mall, home of Xi’an Famous Foods, where we intended to try Xi’an noodles. But the call of dumplings was too strong and I have to say they were some of the best I’ve ever eaten!

We ate excellent pan-fried dumplings with chilli oil and vinegar…..

….but the steamed dumplings in spicy chilli sauce were truly amazing. They were served with chilli oil and sesame paste and topped with choy sum and spring onions. The casing was super thin and the filling was a wonderfully tasty mix of pork and chives.

I forgot to take a photo of the pan-fried dumplings, so the one above is modified from an image by Ken Marshall licensed under CC BY 2.0



Written by michelle picker

September 26, 2018 at 11:10 pm

spicy prawns + vegetables in coconut

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These two dishes use Belacan, a shrimp paste pressed into a block and sun-dried. It’s an essential ingredient in Malaysian cooking which adds a unique depth of flavour. Pre-roasting, a necessary step, reduces it’s very strong smell and flavour. Wrap a piece in foil and roast it over an open flame or in the oven until it has a pleasant roasted aroma. Now you can add it to your rempah, a paste which functions like a wet curry paste to begin your dish.

For the spicy prawns make a rempah of 1 onion, 6 dried chillies, 2 fresh chillies, 2 large cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of laos (galangal) powder, 1 teaspoon of belacan and 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric. You can make this into a paste with a mortar and pestle, a small food processor or blender – add a little water if necessary. Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in a large pan or wok and fry the rempah until it’s fragrant then add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of sugar and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Add 450g (1lb) of whole, unpeeled prawns, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the prawns are just cooked. Garnish with fresh coriander (cilantro).

Vegetables in coconut are a sweet and mild foil for the spicy prawns. Make a rempah of 1 onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 or 2 fresh green chillies, ½ a teaspoon of belacan and ½ a teaspoon of ground turmeric. Fry the rempah in a little oil then add 1½ cups of coconut milk, 2 strips of lemon rind and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer then add 3 or 4 cups of thinly sliced vegetables (I used cabbage, carrots and bok choy) and cook until tender. Remove from the heat and add lemon juice to taste.

*Adapted from recipes in The Curry Cookbook by Charmaine and Reuben Solomon.

Written by michelle picker

May 16, 2018 at 12:12 am

chilli oil

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For those of you who love chilli, you’ll know that chilli oil is an important condiment at Chinese tables and a useful pantry staple. Made with facing heaven peppers, chilli oil is not very spicy (for a chilli oil) and has a nutty, toasty flavour enhanced by aromatics.

To make this chilli oil you will need 110g (4oz) of chilli flakes. If you can’t find the correct chilli flakes you can buy whole dry chillies and crush them in a food processor. Put the chilli flakes in a heatproof bowl or stainless steel saucepan and add some salt to taste as well as aromatics of your choice such as Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, ginger or five spice. The addition of aromatics is a personal preference which varies from region to region and even family to family in China. Next you need to heat a little more than 2 cups of oil. I used peanut oil but any vegetable oil without too much flavour would work. Heat the oil over a high flame to about 200ºC (400ºF). Remove from the heat and allow it to cool to around 135ºC (275ºF). Carefully pour the hot oil over the chilli flakes. It should sizzle and bubble releasing wonderful toasty aromas. Allow the finished chilli oil to cool before decanting into jars to store.



Written by michelle picker

March 21, 2018 at 12:09 am


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Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish (banchan) made from salted and fermented vegetables.There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi but it is most commonly made with napa cabbage and Korean white radish (mu) and a variety of seasonings including Korean chilli flakes (gochugaru), garlic, ginger and often dried seafood. Traditionally kimchi was stored underground in jars but today most people in Korea have dedicated kimchi fridges. Mary and I finally got around to making some.

For a large jar of kimchi, cut 1 large Napa cabbage into chunks. Dissolve ⅛ of a cup of salt in warm water and immerse the cabbage for 30 minutes. Meanwhile process 4 cloves of garlic, an equal amount of ginger, 1 tablespoon of unrefined sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce to make a smooth paste. Add 1 cup of Korean chilli flakes. Cut 350g each of carrots and white radish into julienne and cut a bunch of spring onions into similar lengths. Drain the cabbage and without rinsing pat it dry. Combine everything in a large bowl and pound or knead the mixture to get the vegetables to release their juices. When there is a reasonable amount of liquid in the mixture transfer it to a large jar and weigh it down so that the vegetables are all submerged (a smaller jar full of water makes a good weight). Stand the jar in a tub (liquid will escape) and allow it to ferment for 1 week at room temperature. If you prefer a sourer flavour you can leave it for longer. When you’re happy with the flavour and texture transfer it to the fridge. It will keep for some months.

As well as being eaten as a side dish, kimchi is often used in cooking. Here’s a delicious noodle stir-fry.

First cook 150g (5½ oz) of cellophane (bean-thread) noodles and set aside. Chop 1 onion, 4 large mushrooms, 2 rashers of bacon and some spring onions. In a bowl combine 2 finely diced cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons of Korean chilli paste (gochujang), 3 teaspoons of soy sauce, 3 teaspoons of honey, 3 teaspoons of raw sugar, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar and ½ a cup of hot water. Heat a wok over medium heat and fry the bacon then the onion and the mushrooms. Add 1 cup of kimchi, the sauce and the noodles. Cook until everything is hot and well combined. Remove to a plate and sprinkle with the chopped spring onions. Turn the heat up and add more oil to the wok. Fry 3 lightly salted eggs until they are cooked and then place them over the noodle stir-fry. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and toasted seaweed (kim in Korean or kankoku nori in Japanese).

Written by michelle picker

May 21, 2017 at 6:01 am

enoki mushroom and bean thread soup

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This quick Asian style soup makes a deliciously satisfying meal.


Nothing in this soup takes very long to cook. Prepare a light chicken or vegetable stock and add some finely shredded cabbage, enoki mushrooms and julienned carrots. After a couple of minutes add some bean thread noodles (mung bean vermicelli) broken into 10cm (4″ ) lengths, some sliced fried tofu (beancurd) and some raw prawns (shrimp). Allow to simmer until the prawns and vermicelli are cooked. Add some garlic chives, also cut into 10cm (4″) lengths and flavour the soup to taste with Vietnamese fish sauce (milder than Thai fish sauce), Sriracha chilli sauce and white pepper.

dan dan noodles + cold dressed eggplant

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In Sichuan (Szechuan) dan dan noodles or dandanmian is any dish served with a spicy sauce containing preserved vegetables, mustard stems, chilli oil, Sichuan pepper and spring onions (scallions). This version, from Everything You Want To Know About Chinese Cooking by Pearl Kong, Tien Chi Chen & Rose Tseng, includes sesame paste, peanuts and dried shrimp and is served with a bowl of chicken broth.


Soak ¼ of a cup of dried shrimp in hot water for 20 minutes. Meanwhile cook 450g (1 lb) of fresh egg noodles according to instructions and when they are cooked but still quite firm, drain them, rinse with cold water and set aside. Rinse and finely dice ¼ of a cup of preserved szechuan vegetable (available from Asian groceries). Drain the shrimp (reserving the liquid) and finely dice them. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan until very hot then add the shrimp. Stir for 2 minutes then add the szechuan vegetable for a further minute. Remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons each of dark soy (caramel) sauce, soy sauce, sesame paste, sesame oil and sugar plus 1 tablespoon each of chilli oil and red rice vinegar. Finely slice 4 spring onions and finely crush ½ a cup of roasted unsalted peanuts. To the noodles add the sauce, the peanuts and most of the spring onions. In a small pan toast 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and use them and the remaining spring onions to garnish the noodles. In another saucepan heat 3-4 cups of good chicken stock and the reserved shrimp liquid. Season to taste with salt and ground white pepper and serve in small bowls to accompany the noodles.

This cold dressed eggplant (aubergine) is an excellent accompaniment.


Wash 1 eggplant and cut into wedges. Steam until soft and allow to cool before arranging on a plate. For the dressing combine 1 finely diced green chilli, 1½ tablespoons of soy sauce, ½ a tablespoon of sesame oil, ½ a teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar and chilli oil to taste. Drizzle over the eggplant. 

Written by michelle picker

February 3, 2016 at 5:58 am