I love the cuisine of Sichuan – all those intense flavours, and yet also packing a warhead of such serious chilli mega-tonnage that even a sometimes jaded, tongue-blistered, chilli-head as I can still get a real belt from it.
From a Paleo perspective, though, a more traditional Sichuan hot and sour soup has several pitfalls, namely the use or potential use of – Spicy bean paste, soy sauce, corn flour, rice wine, rice vinegar, and sugar.
I think my version gets around these limitations quite well. The lemon slices and lemon juice give that hint of sourness this dish needs, and the fish sauce, while not ideal, goes some way to replacing the soy sauce. I have been reading a great deal about coconut aminos as a drop-in replacement for soy sauce, but it seems as though it’s going to be a real task to track it down.
Most of the speciality ingredients here should be available from any good Chinese supermarket, but at a pinch, you can just about get away with using garlic and ginger powder in place of the fresh versions, and likewise if you are stuck you can use ordinary black peppercorns and chilli powder in place of the Sichuan pepper and the “facing heaven peppers”. At the time of writing I can’t quite think of a Paleo friendly alternative to Tianjin preserved vegetable if you are having trouble locating it, but I’m always open to suggestions.
This recipe, then, gives you a soup base to build upon. Re-heat or cook the ingredients of your choice in it – anything goes, more or less. Here I opted for a vegetable soup – yellow sweet pepper, golden mushrooms, Chinese pickled cabbage, and water chestnuts.
- 4 spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced – keep the white and green parts separately
- 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 fresh green chillies, the hotter the better, finely sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 tbs Sichuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
- 5 or 6 dried “facing heaven peppers”, cut in half
- 1 tsp 5 spice powder
- 2 tbsp Tianjin preserved vegetable
- 3 slices of fresh lemon
- Fish sauce and lemon juice to taste
- Sesame seed oil
- Green parts of the spring onions (see above), to garnish
- Place the ingredients for the soup base in a 2 litre pan. Half fill the pan with water. Stir well.
- Bring up to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer for about 15 minutes or so.
- Add your main ingredients. Re-heat or cook them in the soup base as appropriate, adjusting the water level as required – you want plenty of soup to slurp!
- Ladle the finished soup into a bowl. Dress with lemon juice, fish sauce, and sesame oil to taste. Scatter over the sliced spring onion greens. Enjoy with a nice cup of green tea on the side.
If you’ve never eaten anything with Sichuan pepper in it before, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. The numbing, tingling sensation is quite unlike anything else in the culinary world, but does take quite a while to kick in. Trust me, you’ll know when it does….