One of my favorite songs is from the movie Silsila. It is picturised on Amitabh Bachchan (who also narrates the song) playing a love lost poet is reminiscing about this lady love. The song goes “Main aur meri tanhai, aksar yeh baatein karte hain, tum hoti to kaisa hota? tum hoti, toh aisa hota”. Which when roughly translated goes, In my loneliness, I often talk to myself, how wonderful it would be if you were here!. A bit lengthy but at its peak, the song beautifully captures the emotions of a hopelessly lonely person. I think it is this loneliness that makes man step out of his realm to find love and fulfillment which make him complete.
Relationships are a difficult thing to manage. You have to give it your all. A little more or a little lesser is a sure formula for disaster. This philosophy can be applied to all relationships, be it a marriage, siblings or between friends. The trick is to find the right balance, between giving it your all and being able to stand your own. Yes, like i mentioned relationships take a lot to keep, but there is also no point in being in it if it is either emotionally or physically draining you.
So then, does this principle apply to food? I’d say a yes, very confidently. Have you noticed how items on your plate seem incomplete if another item isn’t there. Take dal and chawal for instance. Its not that you can’t have them individually, but when had together they just make each other feel so complete. Or many times a simple spoonful of pickle can elevate a relatively boring meal to a soul satisfying one. Todays recipe is one such condiment that shows up on the dining table at every chinese restaurant. The piquant chilli oil which has the capacity to light up a meal just like Chinese fireworks light up the sky on the Chinese new year.
I have always loved Chinese or for that matter SouthEast Asian Cuisine. This to the extent that if I’ve found a dish or a concept worthy of emulating at home, I surely give it a try with a varying degree of results. The one thing I couldnt do is replicate the chilli oil. Honestly, the challenge was trying to come to a conclusion on what the flavour was. Sure it was spicy but it had that one ingredient which gave it that back of the palate flavour kick. Remember the chinese fireworks? Help came in the form of a friend who was posted in Beijing on a project and being a foodie made quite a few CHinese friends. She mentioned its a difficult recipe to formulate since each house had their own. But the secret was in the quantity of Sichuan peppercorns she reckoned. There was the answer I was looking for. In my head I formulated a rough recipe and thankfully the test experiment was successful in the first attempt. I was elated and proceeded to make a larger batch. This time, I was fairly confident of being able to post the recipe. Trust me, its a no fuss recipe and you can use your approximations to match your tolerance of heat and spice. Use Kashmir chillies for a bright red colour or the spicier chillies for the heat effect. Here is the recipe
Sichuan Chilli Oil
- 500 ml unflavored oil (use canola, rice bran)
- 10 chillies (I used equal amount of Kashmir and the spicier variety)
- 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice whole
- 30 grams Sichuan peppercorns
- 5-8 garlic cloves, roughly crushed
- Salt – a small tablespoon
- In a flat bottomed pan, dry roast the red chili and Sichuan peppercorns on a low flame. Once they give out a toasted aroma, move of the heat and allow to cool for 5-8 minutes. Once cooled, pound it roughly with a mortar and pestle but not entirely powdered, add the salt and keep aside.
- Now, heat the oil (preferably in a mud pot) along with the garlic and the Chinese 5 spice on the lowest flame. This will allow the oil to absorb all the flavours of the garlic and the spices. You need to give this step time approx an hour. DO NOT heat the oil on a high flame as the garlic may burn and render a bitter flavour to the oil.
- After about an hour the oil will begin to sizzle. Heat up the flame a bit and let the oil just about reach a boiling point. When it does switch of the flame and allow the oil to cool down a bit. Roughly about 10-15 mins.
- Once the oil is relatively cooler add the red chillies and sichuan peppercorns to the oil. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL, the oil is still quite hot. At this point, you will hear a sizzle and your house will be filled with an intoxicating aroma.
- Let it remain in the vessel for a while and then transfer it to a sterilized bottle. Dont not strain the oil. The longer the spices remain in the oil, the tastier it gets.
So now that you’ve made the oil, here is a quick recipe for you that i tried and was pretty pleased with. Unfortunately, I missed taking a picture, but i will upload it soon.
Heat the chilli oil in a pan and add few cloves of garlic. When garlic is fragrant. add a chopped spring onion and give it a stir. Next add 8-10 medium sized prawns and stir for a minute till the prawns are cooked. Add salt and half a teaspoon of vinegar while giving it a good toss. Serve
Alternatively, you could use it in your salad dressings, or to drizzle over fried rice, or soups or thai green gravies or simply as my friend Dhanya Samuel from The Spice Adventuress suggested simply fry fish in this oil.
All said and done, once you made it you would never want it to get over from the pantry. Just like you would want a good relationship to end.