Sunday, September 13, 2009

Of Peppers and Spice

One of my friends had been to China recently. On hearing that food stores do have some things written in English I asked him to get some Sechuan pepper. He put in tenacious effort in tracking down the real Sechuan pepper, " huajiao fen". That's what culminated in today's Chinese style dinner. Thanks, Nadeem! I may be blogging about it, but the real foodie is the one who went to multiple supermarkets and squinted at any number of condiments in his effort to bring the right spice! The Chinese five spice powder used in the Veggie dish was powdered in a mortar and pestle minutes before being added to the dish. The mixed vegetables were accompanied by another first for me, dimsums filled with chicken filling. They came out rather well, so I have included their picture though dumpling images on the internet are dime a dozen. The images were taken by my husband, Sitabhra.
The dimsum recipe was from Chinese steamed dumplings in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. I use this book a lot. The recipes work for me everytime!
Below is the Five spice powder mix composition. It works with a lot of dishes, but I like it particularly with mixed vegetables and rubbed on fish fillet.

2 star anise
1 Tb spoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon Sechuan paper
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon cloves

Dry roast the ingredients until they give out a whiff of their aromatic oils.
Grind into powder. Cool and store.
Incidentally, I later on found that Sechuan pepper is used in Indian cooking quite frequently and goes under the name of "Triphal" on the Konkan coast where it is frequently paired with fish! So next time I run out of this spice I know now where to approach!


  1. There are various versions of 'Goda Masala' used in Maharashtra for both fish and vegetables. Many of them are similar to this five spice powder (presumably with some local substitute for Sichuan pepper) and unusual, particularly in their use of star anise, a somewhat rarely used spice in the rest of India. Some of these masalas are even tagged with caste name (like Brahmin Goda masala, CKP mutton masala, CKP being a caste in Maharashtra). They are basically infinite variations on garam masala powder.

    I thought Triphal was a Ayurvedic concoction, for various ailments. I didn't know it was a cooking masala too...

  2. Triphala (the myrobalan mix) I know is used routinely for digestion and coughs and colds, but "Triphal" as Ayurvedic medicine is new to me. Its likely the internet is to blame, since pronounciation is all important it would seem. In Marathi, Sechuan pepper is actually pronounced "Tirpal", close enough but not quite. And you are right about the variability of Garam masala; the South Indian versions are so foreign to my tastebuds!


Even proven recipes have variants. If you have tried a variant successfully please let me know the link or type it in!