One of the things I missed the most while traveling was having a standard stock of kitchenware. When you're bopping around from city to city, and readjusting to a new kitchen every few months, you're not going to have all necessary tools at your disposal. Expecially the super heavy items, like a mortar and pestle. I went almost three years without one. If you cook for a living, that should be a crime.
I used a mortar and pestle whenever I could, like while working at The Hutong in Beijing, but for most of the last peripapetic 3 years I mostly made do with ground spices. I just couldn't justify moving around 10-pound stone objects to every kitchen I used. (Nevermind that I had at least 5 times the weight in cookbooks.) But now, ever since moving home, I've been crushing spices like a fanatic.
For anyone who craves the numbingness of Sichuan peppercorn, the whole spice will always be more satisfying than the pre-ground variety. If you have to use "crack" to describe any food item, use it for Sichuan peppercorn, instead of Momofuku desserts. So, when faced with a mountain of shimeji, king trumpet, and large shiitake mushrooms (went a little overboard at Whole Foods), I decided to sort of recreate a wild mushroom stir-fry from a trip last year to Chengdu.
Sichuan peppercorn is my de facto spice for livening up any vegetable dish. Consider the awesomeness of Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans and Sichuan Cucumber Salad. Here, I used as many mushroom varieties as you can find, for textural variety. In addition to the aforementioned, I also tossed in crimini and enoki. If you want to up the ante, add a bit of dried porcini.
Initially, I wanted to serve this with some frisee on the side, but found some nice New Zealand spinach at the Union Square Greenmarket. The leaves are a bit smaller than regular spinach leaves, and have an innate saltiness that makes it perfect for this smoky umami-laden dish. And while you can certainly eat New Zealand spinach raw, it was a bit too acidic for me. A quick 30 seconds in the pan fixes that (or you can blanch it for 5 to 10 seconds), without rendering it too soggy.
Sichuan Wild Mushroom Sauté with New Zealand Spinach
- 1 pound mixed mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, shimeji, oyster, crimini, trumpet, etc.)
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorn, crushed with a mortar and pestle, or 1 tablespoon ground Sichuan pepper
- 2 tablespoons white rice wine
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 handfuls of New Zealand spinach
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Slice the mushrooms to roughly uniform in size. For example, if using large shiitakes, slice them to 1/2-inch thick pieces. Slice trumpet mushrooms into halves or quarters. If using enoki mushrooms, separate so they don't clump when cooking.
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the garlic and Sichuan peppercorn until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms (except enoki) and sauté until they just begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the enoki and cook for another 2 minutes, or until all the mushrooms are tender.
- Add the rice wine to lift all the nice brown mushroom bits from the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add you New Zealand spinach and cook very briefly, about 30 seconds. Serve while hot.