The farther south in mainland China you go, the more chiles become indispensable parts of the local cuisine. In Guilin, in Guanxi province, the local chili sauce has even been elevated to one of the “three treasures” of the region. (The other two are rice wine and fermented tofu.) Let’s start with a picture of cauliflower with Guilin chili sauce:
But before we get to the recipe itself, this is Guanxi, where it comes from:
Breathtaking, right? The scenery, dominated by those giant limestone karst formations, is so famious in China that it is memorialized on the back of the 20 RMB banknote. While the landscape gets most of the attention, the local food is noteworthy, too. In addition to the “three treasures,” you’ll find rice noodles, stuffed snails, all kinds of game, and of course, the renowned beer fish. But all that is for another day.
Today, we’re making cauliflower with Guilin chili sauce (桂林辣椒酱, Guìlín làjiāojiàng). The sauce is made of fresh chills, fermented soybeans, and sesame oil. It looks a little bit like spicy bean paste (辣豆瓣酱, là dòubàn jiàng), but the Guilin version has much less of a bean taste to it, bringing the chili flavors more forward. Remember that Asian sauces are not standardized, so different brands of bottled Guilin chili sauce can be quite different from one another. This gives you an opportunity to sample several varieties and decide which one you like best.
The recipe is so simple that it only merits one process photo along the way. Here it is:
Steam the cauliflower, and let the moisture drain off or evaporate. There are a few ways to do this. If you’re using a bamboo steamer, simply remove the cover and let it sit for a few minutes. An equivalent method would be to put the cauliflower into a colander lined with some paper towels. Once the cauliflower is drained, stir-fy it with the Guilin chili sauce and then finish it off with a generous handful of chopped scallions. That’s it.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets, steamed for 5 minutes, then drained
- 1 Tbsp Guilin chili sauce
- 4 scallions, chopped
- Heat your wok on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Then add 2 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Add the steamed cauliflower (#1) to the wok and stir-fry for about 5 minutes, until heated through. If you let it sit for a few moments between stirs, some of the florets will start to brown on their edges, which is fine.
- When the cauliflower is hot, add the Guilin chili sauce (#2) and stir-fry until everything is coated, about 30 seconds. Then toss with the scallions (#3).
- Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.
VARIATIONS: You can make the dish more complex by adding other vegetables to step #1, such as zucchini, steamed carrots, or mushrooms. You night also try adding greens such as kale, water spinach, or amaranth to the stir-fry.
The essential Chinese pantry is here.