A healthier take on Lao Gan Ma’s spicy chilli crisp

Sydney chef Dan Hong introduced me to Lao Gan Ma’s spicy chilli crisp and boy did I love it. Unfortunately my love for the MSG-ridden jar of goodness wasn’t reciprocated by my body, so it was only brought out on special occasions… think cheat days and such.

It wasn’t until I ate a dish featuring pickled chilli at Three Blue Ducks in Byron Bay that I was transported back to my love of spicy chilli crisp. So, I decided to give making my own version a shot.

Whenever I have a jar of this made, it’s forever on my mind. Thank you to my partner for never tiring of hearing me talk about it. And thank you also for not eating chilli so there’s more for me. I have a tendency to put it on everything… pizza, risotto, taco salad (this one is coming soon), braised chickpeas (still a work in progress) and it’s even great on plain rice.

The oil helps preserve it, but try to drain as much of it as you can before putting it on your plate. And it’s definitely worth going with whole peanuts as opposed to crushed peanuts. They’re my hot tips. Good luck!

Spicy peanut chilli crisp
Makes 1 1/4 cups

1 cup peanut oil
5 shallots, peeled
1 garlic bulb, cloves detached and peeled
1/2 c whole peanuts, shell and skin removed
1 tbsp sichuan pepper, ground
2 tbsp shiitake mushroom powder
1 1/2 c dried chillies, de-seeded (if you want it hot, keep the seeds but I recommend de-seeding to enjoy the flavour balance of all the ingredients)
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp salt

Blitz the shallots and garlic in a food processor. Set aside. Repeat for peanuts.

Heat the peanut oil in a saucepan on the stove. Once warm, add shallots and garlic and stir constantly until they start to lightly brown.

Add peanuts and cook a further 45 seconds.

Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well then let cool.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place and serve as a condiment on anything you like! This one keeps for 1-2 months… if you don’t eat it all first.

Asian bean curd rolls {gluten-free, vegan}

There’s a small vegetarian Chinese restaurant in my hometown that made me fall head over heels for tofu skin (also known as yuba). You wouldn’t know it was anything special from the menu name ‘crispy bean curd skin’ but one day my mum ordered it on a whim and after that, a trip to this restaurant wasn’t complete without a plate – or two!

You can buy dried beancurd sheets from Asian supermarkets. For this recipe, you’ll need the sheets, not dried beancurd sticks, which are also available (and also delicious – but more on that later).

You can do a lot with tofu skin, like soaking it in flavourings and deep frying, or filling it with stuffing and pan frying. My love for eating trumps my love for cooking, so nine times out of 10, I’m looking for shortcuts to spend less time in the kitchen.

Which brings me to these seriously tasty tofu skin rolls that sound a lot more complicated than they actually are. Just think of it as a new way to enjoy tofu.

Once cooked, the rolls can be sliced up and added to a buddha bowl, stir fry or even used as a pho topping. Any leftover slices can be stored in the freezer. Just reheat them in a warm pan before eating.

Asian bean curd rolls {gluten-free, vegan}
Makes approx. 2 medium rolls

1 1/2 c filtered water
1/4 c gluten-free soy sauce
1 tbsp dry sherry
1 tsp coconut sugar
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 2-3 pieces
2 cloves
1 whole dried red chilli
1 star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 packet of dried bean curd sheets

Add water, soy sauce, sherry, coconut sugar, ginger, cloves, chilli, star anise and cinnamon to a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Let simmer for 10 minutes then strain and let the sauce cool.

Unfold the bean curd sheets. Leaving the sheets on top of each other, roughly cut about 5cm off the edge right around the sheets – try to do this in one go so you have a long offcut from each sheet.

Set aside all the sheets. Group the offcuts together and tie it in a rough knot. Submerge the knot in the sauce for about five minutes to soak.

Place one sheet onto a clean damp tea towel and using tongs, pick up the knot and use it as a brush to coat the entire sheet. Repeat with remaining sheets, returning the knot to the pan as needed to soak up more sauce.

Once all the sheets have been coated, place the knot in the middle of the sheets. Fold the sides in first, then move the knot towards you, to the edge of the sheets, so it can be the centre of the roll. Then, tightly roll the sheets up to form a log.

Cut the log into two pieces (three pieces if this won’t fit in your steamer) and steam for around 15 minutes. Then, remove from steamer and pan fry each roll for three minutes on one side, and three minutes on the other side.

Let cool slightly before slicing into thin pieces. Add to a cooked stir fry, buddha bowl or use as a pho topping.