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May 4, 2010

Szechuan peppercorns (Recipe: spicy green beans with ginger and garlic) {vegan, gluten-free}

Spicy green beans! 

When it comes to food shopping, especially in ethnic markets, I'm not easily defeated. Send me on a mission to find the most obscure ingredient; I won't let you down.

I don't speak Chinese, or Spanish, or Italian or Japanese, but I have mastered the arts of pointing and miming, and my skill at drawing little sketches of ingredients on scrap paper from my pocketbook is improving.

I smile and shrug, ask other shoppers for help, point and mime all over again, and cruise slowly up and down the aisles, back and forth, until I find whatever it is I'm looking for.

Works every time -- except the first time I went shopping for Szechuan peppercorns.

I looked and cruised, mimed and smiled, pointed and sketched, and still came up empty. And it wasn't until much later that I learned why; between 1968 and 2005, the US had banned the importation of Szechuan peppercorns.

They're easy to find now, in Asian markets and from online sources. And they add a flavor like no other, a combination of lemon, bitter and tang. There's really no substitute, but Szechuan peppercorns are one of the authentic ingredients without which your Chinese cooking simply will not taste like the real thing.

Szechuanpeppercorns1

What are Szechuan peppercorns?
The berries of a deciduous prickly ash shrub; in other words, it's not a pepper at all. In some older cookbooks, it's called fagaro. The flavor resides in the shell, or husk; the small black seed inside usually is discarded, as it imparts a gritty texture when cooked.

How/where to store:
In a jar on the spice rack for up to three months; in the freezer for up to one year.

More facts about Szechuan peppercorns on The Perfect Pantry:
Szechuan peppercorns (Recipe: salt and pepper prawns)

Spicygreenbeans1 

Spicy green beans with ginger and garlic

Adapted from a recipe in Everyday Chinese: A collection of over 100 essential recipes, this quick and easy side dish packs quite the wallop, but you can tone it down by omitting the fresh chile pepper. Don't overcook the beans; you'll love the crunch. Serves 4.

Ingredients

2 tsp peanut or canola oil
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 fresh Thai chile pepper, sliced into very thin rings
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 thin slices of fresh peeled ginger root
2 scallions, trimmed, cut diagonally into thin slices
8 oz green beans, trimmed and cut diagonally into 3-4 pieces
Pinch of sea salt

Directions

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the peppercorns, and fry for 15 seconds (be careful; they will start to pop and splatter). Immediately add Thai chile, garlic, ginger and scallions; stir fry for another 15 seconds. Add the beans and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring or flipping the pan frequently, until the beans are just barely cooked. Sprinkle with sea salt, and serve.


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Vegetable medley with five-spice dip
Five-spice applesauce

Other recipes that use Szechuan peppercorns:
Spicy Szechuan peppercorn chicken, from My Kitchen Snippets
Sichuan peppercorn tenderloin steak, from Closet Cooking
Szechuan peppercorn ice cream, from The GastroGnome
Ma po tofu, from Wandering Chopsticks
Ants on a tree, from Roots and Grubs

Comments

Fantastic! I did not know that these were not actually peppercorns. Now I've got to have them in my pantry. The things I learn from you! :)

I recall the official switch from szechuan to sichuan, but I don't remember the peppercorns being banned. What a funny story! :)

I have a jar of Ka Me Szechuan Peppercorns that look nothing like the picture you show. They look more like black peppercorns but are grey. I don't know how long I've had the jar, but I find nothing like it on the Ka Me websites or anywhere on the web. Could it be I have these a long time and they are not authentic? thanks for any info. Love your site.
Bliss
NYC

Also, this exotic spice numbs the tongue in a very odd way -- I was amazed when I bought some and put them in soup. Wikipedia: According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, second edition, p 429 szechuan peppercorns are not simply pungent: "they produce a strange tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electrical current."

Great way to prepare the green beans. I definitely need to get some of the Szechuan peppercorns. I hope I could find some here.

have a wonderful day!

Love the sound of this dish. And I actually have some Szechuan peppercorns in my pantry!

did you ever see that episode of anthony bourdain in sichuan with the peppercorns? so good. he ate the hottest of the hot and was ok, for a while...
I LOVE this dish!

Christine, these are definitely not peppercorns. Buy a small amount; a little goes a long way.

Julia, I know that the official name is now Sichuan, but I realized that all of my packages of peppercorns are marked Szechuan. Change is slow....

Bliss, I don't know what you have, but they're not true Szechuan peppercorns, because the black seed-like bit is the part you do not eat. Maybe another reader has some ideas?

Mae, there is definitely a bit of a tongue tingle, though in this recipe, the amount of Szechuan pepper is small enough that I didn't notice any tingle at all.

Mari, these beans are delicious, crunchy, tangy, and bright!

Kalyn, this dish came together in just a couple of minutes. It would be quite delicious with green beans from your garden.

Vanillasugar, I did! I couldn't put half of what he puts into his mouth into my mouth!

This looks delicious! I have had these in kung pao chicken once and they were amazing!

I've been seeing Szechuan peppercorns at one of my local markets and wondering what I could do with them. So thank you! These green beans look yummy and fresh and lovely. I'll hav eto go buy those peppercorns!

Nice, simple recipe. Would be great substituting something like cabbage for the green beans as well.

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