Crunchy broccoli in chili and garlic oil à la Chinabrenner

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There is a small handful of restaurants in Leipzig that I really like and respect, and Chinabrenner is on that list. It is situated in Plagwitz, a former industrial area of Leipzig, and the restaurant is in an old warehouse building.  My ex flatmate told me about this place many years ago. She used to work around the corner from Chinabrenner, and I remember her telling me about a chinese place where you can get a bowl of stir-fry and rice with a cup of tea for 4 euros that doesn’t taste like boring old oily take away chinese food (!). They didn’t used to have dinner back then, I don’t think. Nowadays, lunch costs 6.50, which isn’t bad actually, and they have great dinner. Soooo good, in fact. It comes with a price tag in the evening, but it is worth going all the way to Plagwitz area for authentic chinese, mostly Szechuan cuisine. (I actually don’t like to use the word “authentic” but it is really that good).

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I went to China on an orchestra tour almost 4 years ago. Despite people telling me about their negative experiences in China, I ate incredibly well there. I ate mostly vegetarian, and Vegetarian Lifestyle in Shanghai was definitely a highlight. I also ate at an upscale Szechuan specialty restaurant in Beijing (not that Szechuan is anywhere near there..) which was also fantastic, and a tongue numbing experience. Since then, I have been interested in cooking chinese. Watching this documentary from BBC with the great Ken Hom and ChingHe Huang made me even more eager to learn.

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One of Chinabrenner’s dishes that all my friends and I order every time, is cold broccoli. The broccoli florets are barely cooked, and they are dressed in a pretty large quantity of spicy chili and garlic oil, sprinkled with a healthy dosage of Szechuan pepper. Man, do those tiny peppers numb your tongue! My attempt at this dish might not taste exactly like at the restaurant, but I think it’s pretty close. I reduced the amount of oil, and added slightly more acidity, making the dish more salad like. The key to this dish is to barely cook the broccoli. I add the florets in boiling water for 30 seconds only, just enough to take out their raw edge. The chili bean paste among other ingredients can be found at Asian stores.  Bon Appetit!

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Crunchy Broccoli in Chili and Garlic Oil

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 large head broccoli, cut into small florets and the stalk peeled and chopped into matchsticks
60ml vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 hot chili flakes OR 1-2 dried hot chili, crumbled.
1 Tbsp Shao Shing Wine
2 1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp Rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar or dark chinese vinegar
1 tsp chinese chili bean paste
1 tsp Szechuan pepper, toasted and roughly ground
1 tsp sugar

1. Bring a pot of water and a teaspoon of salt to boil. Add the broccoli and boil for 30 seconds only. Drain and refresh under cold water to stop them cooking. Let the broccoli drain well.
2. In a small frying pan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the minced garlic and chili flakes. As soon as they start to sizzle, turn the heat down to low and let them soften for 10 minutes.
3. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Add the garlic and chili oil and whisk to combine.
4. Put the well drained broccoli in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing. Chill for an hour in the fridge and serve.

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