The familiar Italian broccoli or calabrese known in China as xi nan hua cai, ‘flower vegetable from the south west’) is a relatively recent import to China, but the Chinese have taken to it with gusto. It is often used as a bright garnish for banquet dishes, and for appetisers or vegetable side dishes. In this Sichuanese recipe, scorched chillies and Sichuan pepper give an everyday vegetable an exciting zing, and the green florets look lovely, too, with their scattering of deep red chilli and pepper. For more formal occasions only the florets are used, but the flesh inside the thick stalks has a wonderful flavour, so for home cooking I recommend peeling them, slicing the jade-like flesh and adding it to the stir-fry. The same dish can also be served cold, as an appetiser, in which case it is usually offered in a much smaller portion.
The same method of stir-frying with chilli and Sichuan pepper, which is known in Sichuan as qiang, can be used for many different vegetables, including beansprouts, water spinach, Chinese cabbage, slivered potatoes, and even Brussels sprouts (less fleshy vegetables, or those that are finely cut, do not have to be blanched).
Take care not to blanch the broccoli for too long, or the florets will disintegrate when you stir-fry them.
|5-6||dried chillies, to taste|
|4 tablespoons||cooking oil|
|1/2 teaspoon||whole sichuan pepper|
|1 teaspoon||sesame oil|
- Cut the broccoli into florets, and cut larger florets lengthways into smaller pieces. Peel the stalk and slice thickly. Snip the chillies into halves or sections and discard the seeds as far as possible.
- Bring 2.5 litres of water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon oil. Add the broccoli and blanch for two to three minutes; it should remain bright and crisp. Drain in a colander.
- Add the remaining oil with the chillies and Sichuan pepper to a seasoned wok over a high flame, and stir-fry briefly until the chillies are just beginning to brown (take care not to burn them). Tip in the broccoli and stir-fry for 30 seconds or so until the florets are coated in the fragrant oil, seasoning with salt to taste. Turn off the heat, stir in the sesame oil, and serve.
- Stir-fried broccoli with garlic: Simply substitute two or three garlic cloves, peeled and sliced or finely chopped, for the chillies and pepper, and omit the sesame oil. Fry the garlic very briefly before adding the broccoli: you just want to smell its fragrance, not to brown it.