We made this beautiful red spice oil from a recent Minimalist column in the New York Times. We plan on making the celery and pressed tofu salad from the column later in the week. Jon is in love with this oil. He poured some on the eggplant flan we had for dinner, and when we strained it, he mopped up the bits still in the pot with bread. It is a bit spicy for me, even though I halved the amount of red pepper flakes from the original recipe. I might have to make a very mild version for myself, or just dilute this one to taste. The next time I make it, I might try to get the coriander and cumin tastes to be more prominent. Cinnamon and cloves are so strong that I might need to reduce or leave them out in order to taste the other spices. We plan on using this on the aforementioned salad, in dipping sauces for spring rolls, in stir-fries, and wherever Jon can think to add it for himself.
This was our first time using Sichuan peppercorns, although I had had them in a dish in Singapore. They are kind of trippy. They have a peppery, citrusy aroma, but they numb your tongue slightly, so you don't taste the heat as much. I don't think it would be a big deal to replace the Sichuan peppercorns with black peppercorns, but you would lose that tingly sensation. You can get Sichuan peppercorns at Asian grocery stores. I think Central Market also stocks them.
Chinese spice oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 2-inch segment of ginger, peeled and cut into a few pieces
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 star anise
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1/8 cup (2 tbsp) red pepper flakes (this is half of what the original recipe calls for, and it's plenty spicy for me)
1 cup vegetable oil (we used a corn/canola blend; Bittman recommends peanut oil)
Throw all the spices into a pot. Pour in the oil. Heat over medium until spices are sizzling. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature. Strain. Discard the spices. We're storing it in the fridge, but it's probably fine on the counter.