Sichuan Pepper

2019-07-19 12:47:43

Sichuan pepper  

I enjoy incorporating exotic spices into my cooking and recently purchased Sichuan (or Szechuan) pepper from our local supermarket. This spice gets its name from the Sichuan province in China where it is widely used in cooking. It is one of the ingredients that make up Chinese Five Spice (together with star anise, fennel, clove, and cinnamon) and is used throughout Asia and India. 

Although not ‘fiery’or ‘hot’, sichuan pepper does  have a  numbing effect on the tongue.. Its aroma has been likened to that of lavender, and its flavour to that of citrus. The ‘numbing’ effect is thought to be due to the molecule hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which interacts with the nerve cell receptors in your mouth, and triggers this curious sensation. 

Surprisingly this spice isn’t from either the black pepper or chilli pepper family at all. In fact it is produced from the seed casings of a species of prickly ash that grows wild in China. The reddish-brown berries are picked in autumn and left to dry in the sun, until the husks burst open. The black seeds inside are discarded as they have a bitter, sandy taste. The husks are gently roasted, which can then be used whole or ground into powder. 

Sichuan pepper berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries for treating indigestion and flatulence. 

Sichuan beef stir-fry

Serves 2

Stir-fries make wonderful easy nutritious meals, but can get a little boring when used over and over with the same old flavourings. Sichuan pepper gives this dish a delightful flavour. Chicken, pork or tofu could be used instead of beef. Make use of any alternative vegetables that you have in the fridge. 


1tbsp rice wine or dry sherry

2tsp ground Sichuan pepper

1tsp dark soy sauce

1/2 tsp Chinese Five Spice powder

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 sirloin steaks, cut into strips


2 tsp peanut or sesame oil

1 medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1/2 onion, chopped

1 handful broccoli, cut into small pieces

1 handful mangetout

2 medium carrots, sliced 

1 handful baby corn, sliced

1 red/orange/yellow pepper sliced

300ml beef or vegetable stock

1tbsp light soy sauce

1tbsp cornflour mixed with 2tbsp cold water

1 spring onion, finely chopped

Salt and ground black pepper to taste


  • Mix together the rice wine or sherry, spices, dark soy sauce and garlic, in a medium bowl. Add the beef and leave to marinate (overnight if possible). 
  • Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil. Then add the marinated beef and stir-fry for 2 minutes. 
  • Add the chilli and onion. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the rest of the vegetables and stir-fry for another minute.
  • Add the stock and stir well. Add the light soy sauce.
  • Bring to the boil, add the cornflour and water paste. Stir thoroughly.
  • Add the spring onion, season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with wholewheat noodles or brown basmati rice. 

Note: now once you’ve made this and enjoyed the taste experience, why not get a bit more adventurous and try it in a hot&sour noodle soup or "kung pao" chicken with dark leafy greens


Ras el Hanout

2019-02-27 09:21:33

Ras el Hanout

If you are bored of using the same old spices over and over again, or looking for something different and more exotic to add to your spice rack, Ras el Hanout is a tantalising option. It is a spice blend commonly used in North African cooking, and features especially heavily in Moroccan cuisine. Literally translated as “head of the shop”, the Arabic phrase actually refers to the best spices the store has to offer. Most spice merchants will have their own secret blend, but a typical Ras el Hanout contains a mixture of: cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, clove, paprika, nutmeg, mace, turmeric, allspice and peppercorn. Sometimes ginger, fennel, lavender, orris root, chufa, ash berries, dried rosebud, or Monk’s pepper may be added. The result is a very convenient addition to dishes, as you only need to measure out one thing instead of many spices.

Ras el Hanout is not spicy, but has a pungent, earthy, and vibrant aroma and flavour. The cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg also add a sweet accent. It makes a fabulous lamb rub, can be used to roast chicken or flavor burgers and is a flavoursome seasoning in marinades, stews and tagines, or mixed into couscous.  Try it sprinkled over popcorn for a savoury snack; or stirred into plain yoghurt as a delicious topping for grilled aubergines or baby marrows, or as a dip. 

The health benefits of Ras el Hanout depend on the particular blend of spices used. 

Moroccan Baked Eggs

Serves 2-4


1 tbsp oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1tsp Ras el Hanout

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1tsp ground coriander

800g cherry tomatoes, halved

4tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

4 eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper



  • Preheat the oven to 200 C. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Stir in the spices and cook stirring for 1 minute. 
  • Add the tomatoes and season well with salt and pepper. Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
  • Stir in 2tbsp of fresh coriander.
  • Divide the tomato mixture between 2-4 individual ovenproof dishes. Break an egg into each dish. Bake for 10 minutes or until the egg whites have set. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes if you would like your egg yolks to be less runny. 
  • Scatter over the remaining fresh coriander and serve.


This dish will make a scrumptious breakfast, as well as a quick, easy light supper if served alongside a leafy salad. 


2018-11-27 09:23:41

Pepper Recipe

Pepper is one of the oldest spices known and has been called both the ‘king of spices’ and the ‘pearl of spices’. It was so valuable at one point in history, that it was even used as currency. The pepper plant (piper nigrum) originated in India and production has now expanded to Vietnam, Ceylon, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.

The Difference Between Types of Peppercorn

  • White, black and green peppercorns come from the same plant. The peppercorn comes from the berry of the plant which is picked and dried. The unripe berries of the plant are used to make black pepper whereas white pepper comes from ripened berries which have been dried and had their outer skin removed. Green peppercorns are the unripe berry, which are pickled before drying to retain the green colour of the berries.
  • Pink peppercorns come from the Brazilian pepper tree so are not related to the other types of pepper at all. 

Pepper has long been used in ancient Indian medicine to treat various conditions such as gastric ailments and asthma. However, scientific research is lacking. Pepper is best known to reduce the secretion of acid in the stomach and therefore is thought to help with indigestion. Furthermore, pepper has proven antioxidant properties and may enhance the absorption of other phytochemicals in other spices. Animal studies have shown that it can prevent heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory diseases and cancer, but human studies have not been completed as yet. Also, pepper has antimicrobial effects and can be used as a preservative and a non-toxic deterrent for insects and rodents. 

In cooking, pepper is versatile. When added near the end of the cooking process pepper will enhance most dishes. It is delicious used as a crust on meat and chicken and pairs wonderfully with lemon juice on fish, chicken and vegetables. Freshly ground black pepper on strawberries or watermelon adds a modern touch.  

Piperine is the active ingredient in pepper and is responsible for the pungent properties we associate with it. Piperine becomes less active once the peppercorn is ground so best to grind your peppercorns freshly.

This recipe makes delicious chicken breasts without all the added preservatives, salts and sugars found in shop bought sauce. The chicken can be sliced and served with salad as a light meal or main meal and makes great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Homemade lemon pepper chicken


2 skinless chicken breasts

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (even better if ground with a pestle and mortar)

½ cup chopped fresh coriander

1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

Season with salt

2 tsp olive oil

Lemon wedges for serving


  • Pre-heat oven to 180C. Place coriander, zest of half the lemon and juice of the whole lemon, garlic, ginger, salt and olive oil in a bowl and mix together. Butterfly the chicken breasts and cover with the lemon pepper mixture. Leave to marinate for 10-15 minutes.
  • Place the chicken breasts in a greased oven proof dish, cover and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  • Serve with fresh lemon wedges and fresh coriander.

Ring the changes: Use this sauce as a marinade for other meat and fish and try it as a dressing for steamed green vegetables.