Celebrate Chinese New Year like a dragon

Chosen Bites: Take a weekday meal from "ho-hum" to "wow" with the big flavors of this Sichuan Noodles dish.

Sichuan Noodles 311 (photo credit: Laura Frankel)
Sichuan Noodles 311
(photo credit: Laura Frankel)
Chinese New Year is a good time to add variety to your home cooked meals. A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine, but perhaps the best known and most influential are Guangdong (Cantonese) cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine and Sichuan cuisine. These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as available resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle.
I love the flavors of Sichuan Chinese food. Sichuan peppercorns add a lemony flavor unlike white or black peppercorns. I also love the fact that I can have an amazing full-flavored dinner ready in about 30 minutes.
Sichuan Noodles
This delicious dish can be ready in minutes and can take a weekday meal from "ho-hum" to "wow" with big flavors and multiple textures.
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns* 1 star anise1/2 pound ground beef or turkey3 tablespoons dark soy sauce 3 teaspoons kosher salt 1/2 cup peanut oil 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil3 tablespoons chopped garlic 3 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger ½ cup finely chopped scallions 1 medium fennel bulb, diced1 cup chopped bok choy leaves½ cup shredded carrots2 tablespoons sesame paste3 tablespoons sugar2 tablespoons chili oil or 1 spicy chili, chopped1 cup chicken stock 12 ounces fresh or dry Chinese egg noodles
1. Heat a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the peppercorns and star anise and stir-fry for about five minutes until they brown slightly and start to smoke. Remove them from the heat and allow them to cool, then grind and set aside.
2. Combine the ground beef or turkey, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of the salt and mix well. Heat a wok or skillet, add the oil and when the oil is hot, deep-fry the beef or turkey, stirring it with a spatula to break up the pieces. When the meat is crispy, about four minutes, remove it with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels.
3. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the oil. Put a saucepan containing 3 to 4 quarts of water on the stove and bring to a boil.
4. Reheat the wok with the remaining peanut oil and sesame oil and stir-fry the garlic, ginger and scallions for 30 seconds, then add the fennel and bok choy and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes before adding the sesame paste, the remaining soy sauce, sugar and salt, the chili oil and chicken stock. Simmer for four minutes. Return the meat to the pan and stir.
5. Cook the noodles in the boiling water for two minutes if they are fresh, five minutes if they are dried. Drain in a colander. Transfer them to a serving bowl or individual bowls. Ladle on the sauce and top with the fried meat mixture. Sprinkle with the ground Sichuan peppercorns, star anise and serve.
*Sichuan Peppercorns are really the outer pod of a tiny fruit commonly found in Asia. Not at all related to white or black peppercorns, they are grown and used as a spice in Chinese cuisine.
Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavor that is not hot or pungent like black or white pepper, or chili peppers. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth that sets the stage for hot spices.
Sichuan peppercorns can be found in many spice shops, Asian markets and online.