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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sichuan Kelp Salad

I've gotten to a point where I can more or less invent a dish using region specific ingredients, and then casually name that dish as being a dish from that region.. and after making sure I'm not being sacrilegious, it turns out my "invention" is something that would be home cooked in that region.
To be a bit less general, my target region is Sichuan, China.  To make a Sichuanese marinade or dressing, you pretty much use the same basic ingredients.  Doubanjiang, sesame oil, black vinegar, cooking wine, and soy sauce with varying ingredients being Sichuan peppercorns, sugar, garlic, ginger, seeds...
Once you understand the seasoning, you can use Chinese vegetables and mushrooms to make a stir fry, soup, or salad.  Here I used dried kelp I cooked and rehydrated to make a hot/cold salad.  The hot being some grilled marinated chicken and shitakes, the cold being the kelp acting as cold noodle with some fresh, herbal, and crunch.
Certain recipes require studying beforehand, technique, and concentration.  Others only require understanding.  This is one of those understanding recipes.
Lets talk about that kelp.  The bag had 60g dried kelp, which is peanuts.  I thought it would make only one serving.  The thing is, once you cook it, it rehydrates and quadruples in size, making it enough for 4.  Oh no worries, I will find ways to repurpose it.
While cooking it smells like the ocean.  It's a soothing aroma.  In the salad it did not taste fishy at all, but acted as noodles.  I'm aware there is a product called "kelp noodles."  This is not that product.. though I will be seeking those out next time I take a trip to Asian Wonderland.  Kelp is a great fight food.  It's full of vitamins, minerals, iodine, chlorophyll.. and protects from radiation and reduces it in the body.. which makes it an appropriate food for anyone, especially the extreme orient (with their recent radiation troubles).  It's fun to play around with and it keeps like pasta when dried, or can be frozen.  There really isn't a reason not to include kelp in the kitchen.  You never know when you might have an urge.
Serves 2
30g (1oz) dried kelp, soaked
1/2 julienned cucumber
6-8 shitake mushrooms, soaked if dried, then sliced
2 chicken cutlets, cubed (or more mushrooms if veg)
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp doubanjiang (Pixian broadbean chili paste)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp black vinegar
1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 tsp doubanjiang
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 clove garlic, grated
chopped basil
chopped mint
crushed peanuts
1 tsp sesame seeds
fried onions or shallots (thought of it too late)
1.  Make the marinade and rub it into the chicken and mushrooms.  Set aside while you chop and prepare the rest.
2.  Cook the kelp in some boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled, then set aside (preferably in the fridge)
3.  Heat the oil in a wok and add the sliced shitakes.  Let them cook a few minutes, then add the chicken.  Stir fry for about 3-5 minutes until all cooked through.
4.  Assemble.  Place a portion of kelp in your serving dish.  Make a spot for each item, the shitakes, the chicken, the herbs, the cucumber.. then spoon some dressing over it all.  Top with the crunch toppings, the peanuts and sesame seeds.  Now that I think about it, some fried onions would have been lovely here as well.  Ah maybe next time.
5.  Observe and take in the beauty of your creation, then tear the sheets off the bed and throw the blanket to one side, the pillows in the middle, and plop yourself onto the pile.
see translation = stir it together with your chopsticks.
This was pure delight.  The most surprising part is how full I was after eating this.  It's basically a salad, but that kelp really satiates.. and those mushrooms are so meaty they stand out all on their own.  This could easily be all vegetarian if you skipped the chicken and doubled the shitakes! 
I would not be shy serving a salad like this to a Chinese friend.  I'm sure that friend grew up eating salads like this.. seasoned like this.. made with love like this... which is why I can proudly call it a Sichuan Kelp Salad.

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