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illustrated guide to the basic ingredients in Chinese cooking
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spices, condiments +
14. star anise | This eight-pointed, star-shaped spice the fruit
of an evergreen tree has a licorice flavor, although it actually
comes from a different family than anise. The Chinese use it in a
variety of ways -- ground, broken, or even left whole to flavor dishes.
15. Szechuan peppercorns | This highly aromatic spice, also
sometimes referred to as brown peppercorn, is the dried berry of a
prickly ash shrub. You can find it powdered or whole whole
peppercorns should be lightly toasted in a hot dry skillet until
fragrant, then ground with a pepper mill, or mortar and pestle.
16. Chinese 5-spice powder | A blend of approximately equal parts
star anise, clove, fennel, cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorn, this spice
mixture is used widely in Chinese cooking. You can buy pre-blended
bottles and packages of 5-spice at any Asian market.
17. dried shiitake mushrooms | Dried shiitake mushrooms have a
deliciously rich, woodsy, mushroom-y flavor. Soak them in warm water
before using, then cut off the tough stems (you can either discard them,
or use them for soup stock). Store in a cool, dry, place in an airtight
18. dried black fungus ("woodear" fungus) | This dried
tree fungus is available in whole, curly chips or sliced into strips,
both of which should be soaked in warm water before use. Black fungus
has a somewhat intriguing crunchy bite to it it makes a good
addition to stir-fries and soups.
19. dried scallops + shrimp | Dried seafood products like shrimp
and scallop are a common ingredient in soups, stir-fries, and other
dishes. They have a very strong, distinctive flavor that may not appeal
to all (personally, I cant stand dried shrimp, which are commonly
used in everything from fried rice to dumplings, although I do like the
flavor of dried scallops, which are, alas, costlier.) They should be
rehydrated in warm water before use.
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