On the Side

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On the Side is a cookbook I had no business purchasing. It’s all about side dishes, and I’m already the biggest proponent of side dishes. My favorite part of Thanksgiving are the sides. I have some turkey, but I love the sweet-tart cabbage, the garlicky sweet potato mash, and the crispy roasted Brussels sprouts.

So you don’t have to convince me that sides are important, but I bought it because I agree with the author, London-based Ed Smith.

From the author: “This book is for anyone who already realizes that the best bits of a Sunday roast are the trimmings. And for everyone else too – because you’ll see the light soon.”

Mr. Smith originally worked as a corporate lawyer, while also keeping a blog, called Rocket and Squash, to which I now subscribe. Eventually he became a chef, and worked in the food industry.

During this time he’s also been an observer, a student of food – “I’ve watched trends arrive, and some of them crash and burn; I’ve seen a million and one ways with chicken, hundreds of crumbles and nearly as many chocolate fondants. And yet, in all this time, barely a handful of side dishes. Which is madness.”


The dish I chose to make from the book is Chinese cabbage with black vinegar, which is called Chinkiang vinegar. It was an opportunity to try it, as well as Sichuan chile flakes, called Gochujaru.

Chinese Cabbage with Black Vinegar

1 Chinese cabbage
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar
2 teaspoons golden caster sugar
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
4 cm fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks
2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon lightly crushed Sichuan peppercorns

Prepare all the ingredients first, as the cooking process is quick. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then each of those halves in two again. Cut out the core from the base of each quarter, then roughly chop the lengths into 5 or 6 pieces widthways.

Mix the soy sauce, vinegar and caster sugar together in a bowl and set aside. I can see why sugar is an ingredient. Black vinegar has a delightfully deep earthy flavor.

I divided the cabbage into two bowls – one with pieces from the root end, the other bowl with the thinner pieces.

Place a large wok over a very high heat, add the oil and allow it to heat almost until it smokes.

Drop the ginger onto the hot oil and let this soften for 30 seconds before adding the chili flakes and peppercorns, then pretty much immediately start to add the pieces of cabbage cut from the root end.

Stir fry for 30 seconds, before adding the softer top part of the cabbage. Cook for 45 seconds more, stirring occasionally, before pushing the cabbage to one side and pouring the soy sauce mixture in.

Quickly move the cabbage around for 20-30 seconds, then remove from the heat so that the cabbage takes on the flavors of vinegar and soy but retains its bite.

Serve immediately.


I served the cabbage alongside noodles topped with sesame seeds.

This cabbage is fabulous. The only different thing I would do is to use a grinder on the peppercorns.

The cabbage would be a great side to meatballs, tofu, shrimp, or beef. The next day I cooked a filet of salmon and it was a wonderful meal!

 

Szechuan Peppered Steak

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I first learned about Szechuan peppercorns and Szechuan pepper salt from the Chinese Cooking cookbook of the Time Life Foods of the World Series. The pepper salt was made as a “dip” for Szechuan duck. Now, I like pepper and salt, which are the ingredients in Szechuan Pepper Salt, but dipping meat into this mixture might even be a bit too much for me.

But the pepper salt is unique and very versatile in cooking, so I decided it was time I made it again.

Szechuan peppercorns aren’t really peppercorns, but they’re called that because of their resemblance to peppercorns. That’s just an assumption on my part. They’re sort of crinkly brownish-black peppercorn-looking balls the size of peppercorns, which have a very aromatic smell to them that I can’t quite categorize. There’s a sweetness, a smokiness, an earthiness…..

So here is the recipe for the pepper salt.

Szechuan Pepper Salt

5 tablespoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns*
1 teaspoon black peppercorns**

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Place the three ingredients in a large skillet and toast everything over moderate heat until the peppercorns just begin to smoke. You will love the smell of these peppercorns – they smell like aromatic smoke from a campfire that you’re smelling while sitting outside in the Alps with hot toddies. Seriously.

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Remove the skillet from the heat, but continue stirring until the mixture is cooled down.

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Place the mixture in some kind of spice blender and grind until finely ground and smooth.

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Using a sieve, strain the mixture. This will catch the skins of the peppercorns and other miscellaneous bits and pieces.

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Place the pepper salt in a jar and seal. Mine always kept indefinitely.

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To test out the peppersalt, try using it for steaks. I coated both sides of two filets with the peppersalt and brought the steaks to room temperature.

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Brown the steaks in hot oil of choice until they are brown on both sides, and continue cooking until rare or medium rare. My steaks were only about 1″ thick, so I didn’t need to use my oven for this result.

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Let the steaks rest, as usual, and then serve. I also sprinkled a little more pepper salt on the cooked steaks. You could also sprinkle pepper salt on grilled veggies instead of the steaks! But I wouldn’t recommend it on everything on your plate because it’s a bit strong.

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verdict: Oh, I have missed you peppersalt!!!

* The original recipe calls for only 1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns, but I prefer this ratio. Otherwise everything ends up too salty.

** The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns, but I upped mine to a whole teaspoon. Only do that if you like pepper. But the flavors of the real peppercorns and the faux ones are dynamite!!!