Pepper-Upper

More than fresh produce, or lack thereof, warming spices define seasonal treats as we enter the winter months. Crystallized ginger dances in soft cookies sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, while nutmeg frosts the top of frothy eggnog glasses. Clove and allspice infuse warm pumpkin pies, but what about a flavor that will really spice things up? Sichuan peppercorns aren’t exactly a typical taste for the holidays, but considering their zest and uncanny ability to lift the spirits, they deserve a place of honor at your next fĂȘte.

Still a somewhat obscure ingredient in the US that may not feature prominently at your mainstream supermarket, both green and red peppercorns have become much more widely available in recent years. Up until 2005, they were actually banned from import into the US, so unless you had access to the black market, you were out of luck. Now, like everything else it seems, they’re easy to find online, if local specialty stores can’t keep the shelves stocked.

Green Sichuan peppercorns are simply unripe berries harvested from the same vine that produces red pepper berries. They bear the same pungency found in the other peppercorns, with hints of citrus and a more earthy aroma. True red peppercorns are left much longer to ripen and dry in the sun. Their real claim to fame, however, is less about their flavor, and more about their effect. The distinctive tingling, mouth-numbing experience is unmistakable, transcending the normal understanding of what constitutes spice. It’s not exactly hot in the conventional sense, but certainly not bland in the least.

Why not apply that unique taste to more festive treats? For something that will take the bite out of winter’s chill and reinvigorate the weary spirit, go ahead and throw a pinch of this secret ingredient into any dish, really. Use it instead of that boring old black pepper and watch your cooking come to life.

If you’d prefer a more measured integration, consider the classic candied almond. Perfect for last-minute gifts, host/ess presents, easy appetizers, or late night snacks, there’s nothing a lovely lacquered nut can’t do. Crisply toasted with caramelized brown sugar, infused with a touch of molasses sweetness, you could stop right there and have a delightful, if basic, little morsel. Add in orange zest and the punch of Sichuan peppercorns to elevate each crunchy nut to a whole new level. Soy sauce instead of pure sodium lends a savory, lightly salty hit at the end.

Bask in the culinary glow of warming spices, and consider adding Sichuan peppercorns into your permanent seasoning lineup. A little pinch goes a long way.

Yield: Makes 2 Cups

Sichuan Orange Candied Almonds

Sichuan Orange Candied Almonds

Crisply toasted with caramelized brown sugar, orange zest, and the punch of Sichuan peppercorns elevate these crunchy nut to a whole new level. Soy sauce instead of pure sodium lends a savory, lightly salty hit at the end.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 1/4 Cup Orange Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Red Sichuan Peppercorns, Roughly Crushed
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
  • 2 Cups Blanched Almonds
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste

Instructions

    1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.
    2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, orange juice, zest, peppercorns, and soy sauce. Mix well and bring to a slow boil. Maintain a gentle boil without stirring for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat a spoon.
    3. Add the almonds and vanilla, thoroughly covering them in the syrup before transferring to your prepared baking sheet, spreading out the nuts as evenly as possible.
    4. Bake for just 4 - 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Separate the nuts while still warm, or break them apart once cooled. Make sure they're completely cool before serving or storing in an airtight container.

Notes

Keep in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 277Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 195mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 4gSugar: 19gProtein: 7g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.

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