Popular Szechuan Dishes to Cook at Home
Szechuan cuisine boasts some of the most diverse and complex flavors around. The mix of traditional Chinese, Arabic, and Latin American spices can be combined together into a variety of delicious variations, but the complexity of these flavors can make many think that they’re complex to cook. That’s not the case! While Szechuan cooking might involve working with a few ingredients you otherwise wouldn’t, it’s not that hard to learn. Here are some of the most popular Szechuan dishes you can cook at home.
The Importance of Mapo Tofu
There are few better comfort foods out there than mapo tofu – at least if you have the tolerance for a little heat. The core ingredients here are essentially just pork (or beef) and tofu, but it’s the spices that really add the dimensions here. A basic broth thickened down with ginger, garlic, chilies, and Sichuan peppercorns create a rich but tongue-numbing sauce that’s one of the most recognized flavors in Szechuan cooking.
Hot and Sour Soup
Hot and sour soup may be a staple in practically every American-Chinese takeout restaurant, but it also has its roots in the Sichuan region. Sourness has been a trademark of Sichuan cuisine even longer than spiciness, and it really has an opportunity to sit front and center here. And the duality of flavors here is achieved pretty simply – through a combination of vinegar and white pepper. If you can find the ingredients, it’s very simple to make. And it’s a perfect choice for cold winter nights.
Preparing dumplings can be labor intensive, but it can be therapeutic and a great group activity too. The dumpling itself is a simple blend of mixed pork inside of dough. But the real heart of the flavor comes from the sauces it’s served with – a mix of garlic, sugar, and soy sauce and a chili garlic oil that’s common in multiple Szechuan dishes. Once prepared, they’re easy to store away for later too. Simply freeze them indefinitely and boil them when you’re ready to eat.
Kung Pao Chicken
One of the most popular takeout dishes in the world calls the Sichuan region its home. The flavor profile is a little more basic than many other Szechuan dishes, with a dominant nuttiness that isn’t present throughout the cuisine. But that simplicity makes it easy to scale the heat of your kung pao up or down depending on what your mouth can handle.
The Importance of Orange Peel Chicken
Szechuan cuisine’s most distinctive quality may be its aggressive willingness to match together seemingly contrary flavors. With orange peel chicken, it’s spice and sweetness with a bit of tartness from the citrus. While chain restaurant variations of this dish tend to pile on the sugar, it doesn’t have to be such a gluttonous dish. Like mapo tofu, orange peel chicken will produce that uniquely numbing sensation that happens when chilies are mixed with peppercorn.
Why You Should be Integrating Szechuan Into Your Kitchen
The history of Szechuan cooking is one of global influences, and that’s something that you should take to heart. The balancing of contrarian flavors and the key combination of garlic, ginger, and chili that serve as the trifecta for the cuisine is something you can take with you and extend to other dishes you cook with. These dishes offer a great start, but there’s also plenty of room for experimentation. And if you want to keep things simple, consider picking up any of a number of premade Sichuan sauces, peppers, and spices that can serve as a cornerstone for Szechaun dishes.