Apologies for the fact that vacation week kind of got away from me and I vanished without notice; also apologies for the fact that our internet has been down all day and I am only getting this out now. The little gerbils who drive the wheel that makes our modem run at such blisteringly glacial speeds must have the day off. But it’s a full week, so I am posting even given the late hour.
My friend Julie has said, on occasion, that I am the only person she knows who will spend an entire day making sauces and at the end of the day have nothing for dinner. She has even coined a term for my disorder: Condimentia. I agree entirely with the diagnosis. I love sauce and relish and chutney and salsa and so on. I think a person wealthy in sauce is wealthy indeed. That person can cook for a fussy group of diners, or a toddler, or an invalid—-anyone who requires plain steamed this and that—-and still, when their turn at the table comes around, eat like a king. A king of several countries, most of them below the Equator. Persons wealthy in sauce can be so tired that all they can muster is a pot of rice or an egg, and still present a festive dinner to themselves or others. With a cracker or two or a few vegetables and their sauce arsenal, they can manifest a toothsome plate of snacks in a heartbeat, if called upon to do so. They have options. They are set.
I am highly symptomatic now. Thinking about talking sauce, sauce and nothing but sauce all week has my mind and pulse racing. How could I possibly choose just five? This could go on for a while. May have to change the name up there. Welcome to The Sauce Channel.
This one comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s weighty tome, World Vegetarian. It’s a splendid book. Almost never steers me wrong. Her recipe produces (pardon the technical terminology) a metric buttload of this sauce, which is handy for gift-giving or periods of epic sauce consumption. I have adapted it here so that you end up with a more reasonable quantity of the stuff, but if you have pals you think might appreciate a jar, go ahead and triple it back up. You will win friends and influence people.
This is a simple recipe but it’s also a good time to practice a little mise en place, because you need everything in short order and it’s good to have it all ready before you begin. I almost never cook like that, and yet I am always happy when I do. I feel like Julia a little, even though I have to wash all my own little wee bowls.
Jaffrey mentions that this condiment keeps unrefrigerated for several months, which I have seen to be true, and she also is careful to note that good ventilation in the kitchen is helpful for your breathing comfort when you make it. Any sinus conditions lingering from the winter weather will be cleared when you are done. A final note on the ginger, if I have not mentioned it already—my pal Amy taught me that you can peel it easily and comfortably with an ordinary teaspoon and once you try that, you never look back.
crunchy sichuan garlic relish
Makes about a cup
2/3 cup canola or peanut oil
I bunch scallions, finely sliced (white and light green parts)
About a half-inch knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
Cloves from three whole heads of garlic, peeled and finely chopped (you can use a food processor for this; pulse until it is all minced and remember to wash that appliance well before you make pastry)
About 15 dried hot red chiles (the kind that are about 2” long), crumbled, or one heaping tablespoon of red pepper flakes (the kind you shake on a slice of pizza)
Scant ¾ T of sea salt
1 teaspoon of soy sauce or tamari
1 T roasted sesame seeds
¼ t toasted sesame oil
Heat the oil in saucepan or frying pan until it ripples lightly. Drop in the scallions and stir and fry them, scraping all areas of the pot, untl they barely begin to take on some color. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Now add the ginger and garlic and continue to stir and fry for another 10 minutes or so, until everything is light golden. (they will darken and crisp more as they cool).
Stir more as time goes on, because as things brown up they tend to stick more, and keep the heat on the low side. Drop in the chiles now (remember that they will send up a mighty pepper fume) and stir for a few seconds, and then add the salt and soy sauce and stir for another minute. Turn off the heat and add the sesame seeds and oil, then let it all cool completely before scraping it into a sterilized and completely dry jar with a tight-fitting lid.
This is an excellent addition to rice, to stir-fried greens, or on top of a bowl of noodles. It was heaven to night on some braised Chinese broccoli, and I bet the same effect can be achieved with baby bok choi. Also, it’s great on toast. But not everyone takes their sauce that way, I know.