Love2Chow Szechuan-style Master Meat Mix

By Charleen - October 26, 2019

If you love the flavors of dan-dan noodles, Szechuan dry-fried green beans or mapo tofu, there is a secret ingredient that adds a distinctive flavor to these dishes and more. It can be cooked into a master mix with any type of ground meat, or even used on its own for vegan adaptations of Chinese dishes that use a sprinkling of meat as a condiment.

Dan Dan Noodles - recipe in Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop
Szechuan Dry-Fried String Beans - recipe in The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young
There are many different types of pickled vegetables used in China, each with its own distinctive regional (and probably even familial) variations. I first learned about ya cai 芽菜, a type of picked mustard green sprout/stem, from Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. I was fortunate that our local Chinese grocery store stocked the Suimiyacai brand, made in Yibin, China.  Once I tasted ground pork browned with a tablespoon or two of this wonderfully aromatic, lightly salted condiment, I was hooked. 

Shortcut to Love2Chow recipes for Szechuan Master Meat Mix or Vegan Szechuan Master Mix.
Suimiyacai made by Sichuan Yibin Suimi Yacai Co.
I immediately stopped bothering with the more famous pickled mustard green stems called zha cai 榨菜 (Sichuan preserved vegetable), a half-fist-sized preserve that had to be diced into small pieces before being added to the ground meat. Although zha cai does adds a great, slightly sour flavor to pork stir-fries and soups. With its brown sugar, chili, cinnamon and other spices, suimiyacai not only added a richer, more complex flavor, but also the tiny, dark brown fragments enhanced the appearance of the ground meat. 

As meat is often used more as a condiment to flavor many Chinese dishes, rather than dominating the plate, many of the recipes I was happily cooking with suimiyacai used only 4 ounces of meat here, and 6 ounces there. I found this to be irritating as I would then have to figure out what to do with the rest of the ground meat.

Back when I was single and just starting to cook, I used to sauté up a master meat mix that I would subsequently transform in multicultural directions. This consisted of ground beef browned with minced garlic, mushrooms and a splash of soy sauce. I would use it as a starting point for spaghetti and meat sauce one day, a Chinese stirfry with frozen mixed vegetables another day, or tacos and microwave nachos until it was gone. 

Drawing upon this concept, I created a Szechuan Master Meat Mix (SM3that works great with ground pork, ground beef or ground turkey.  

Some uses for the Love2Chow Szechuan Master Meat Mix (SM3) appear below: 

Charky's Basil Eggplant 

Although this dish did not originally have meat in it (aside from a bit of fish sauce), adding some leftover SMreally elevated the eggplant to a whole new level (and it was already popular with friends and family)! The secret here is to use the long, skinny Chinese eggplants. They are tender and can be used right after cutting as they have no bitterness to draw out by salting, in contrast to western eggplants. The basil leaves are left whole and used as a vegetable rather than a garnish. Click here for the recipe
Charky's Basil Eggplant, a Love3Chow recipe

Dan Dan Noodles

There are many delicious version of Dan Dan Noodles 擔擔面 (Dàn dàn miàn), using either pork or beef. One of our favorites is from Diana Kuan at her Appetite for China website. To use SM3, simply heat up with some scallions and use this mix to top the noodles.
Dan Dan Noodles from Appetite for China by Diana Kuan.
March 2020 update.  Click here for Love2Chow Dan Dan Noodles with Meat or Vegetarian toppings.

Szechuan dry-fried green beans

This is really the dish for which SMwas first developed. The green beans are slow roasted in batches in the wok or skillet until areas are browned and they start to wrinkle from loss of water. They are then set aside while the meat cooks (or the SM3 reheats), poised to soak up the delicious black vinegar-based sauce. Served at room temperature, a good percentage of the beans are snitched by little fingers as they cool -- so make extra!
Szechuan Dry-Fried String Beans - recipe from The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young

Update January 2020This recipe can be easily scaled up thanks to a new method for blistering the beans that I have developed.  Click here to read about the sheet pan shortcut and for my new vegan-friendly adaptation of this dish. 

Mapo tofu 

The SMrecipe is like a scaled up version of the meat topping for mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐 (Má pó dòufu). Nevertheless, it is easy to make a vegan version of this dish by omitting the pork and adding extra suimiyacai. Ingredients sourced directly from Szechuan annually by Taylor and Fong Chong of the Mala Market help make this dish special. 
Mapo doufu recipe in Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop, with a simple garlic, salt, pepper seasoned plate of sugar snap peas 

Yum Ma Rice Noodles

My husband and kids did not want to eat tofu for years (until recently -- click here for the dishes that changed their minds!). To get the flavors I loved, I made the ground pork for mapo tofu, added baby shanghai bok choy (or any other vegetables I had), and tossed everything with pad thai style rice noodles lightly dressed in a sauce I created. Having the SMpre-cooked makes this dish a breeze, and it's flexibility makes it great as a "clean-out-the-fridge" dish. My kids and all their friends absolutely love this dish. I wanted to call it mapo noodles, but the kids did not like the reference to pock marks and decided to call it Yum Ma Noodles instead. (Recipe to follow in a later post).
Yum Ma Stir-fried Rice Noodles with SM3, shanghai tips, yellow pepper, carrots and scallions.

Instant Pot Turkey Lentil Chili

The first time I tried this tasty recipe based loosely on the 365 Days of Slow & Pressure cooking website, I used some leftover SMthat I had made with ground turkey, skipping the browning step as my turkey was already cooked. I substituted a 50-50 split of Penzey's medium chili powder and Penzey's salt-less chili 9000 seasonings for the chili powder and cumin. Combined with the extra umami punch from the suimiyacai, this was the tastiest lentil chili!

Asian Microwave Nachos

There is nothing simpler than sprinkling grated cheddar, colby or jack cheese onto tortilla chips and popping the plate in the microwave for 30-60 seconds. Addition of leftover taco meat, salsa, scallions amps it up a notch. For a real taste treat, keep the cheese and scallions, but substitute SM3 and Sriracha sauce for an Asian version of nachos.

Szechuan Spiced Eggs

Whether scrambled or fried, eggs taste great with a bit of leftover SM3 and chili oil for breakfast!

Love2Chow Szechuan-style Master Meat Mix (SM3)                        October 26, 2019
1 Tbs vegetable oil (safflower, sunflower, corn, canola)
1 pound ground meat (pork, beef or turkey)
1-2 Tbs of Yibin Suimiyacai
   1/2 inch fresh ginger root minced
   2 cloves garlic minced
   1 small square seasoned, pressed (dry) tofu (see tips below), chopped into small cubes 

1.     Heat wok or skillet until you can feel the heat from 3 inches away. Add oil and swirl to cover bottom.
2.     Add ground meat and break up with spatula.  Allow meat to cook undisturbed and brown a little for 1-2 minutes. If your meat exudes a lot of water (consider switching to a different butcher), let the water mostly boil off before proceeding.
3.     Add the suimiyacai and optional ingredients. Finish browning the meat and allow to cook until the smaller pieces start to crisp up.  
4.   Set aside. Use the amount you want for whichever dish you are making, and store the rest in the refrigerator.  Reheat by adding the SM3 to whichever recipe you are making, or by using the microwave for 20-50 seconds when using to top soups, nachos or dan-dan noodles.
Please enjoy the recipe and share what you think. Click for a Printer-formatted version.
Reheating SMwith fresh scallions for dan dan noodles
🐾 If you go to your Asian grocery in search of ya cai, take the photo of the package with you. If they direct you to nondescript bags that are "equivalent" or "similar", I would advise mail ordering the real deal from Mala Market
One reason Sumiyacai is so delicious is the layering of flavor from a 6-12 month process. The mustard green stems are hand picked, sliced and dried before being subjected to a two stage fermentation process, according to Jessie Levene. After being salted and packed in ceramic pots to ferment for 3-6 months, they are boiled in brown sugar for 8-9 hours, dried, and fermented for another 3-6 months with star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and garlic.

🐾 Chinese preserved, salted vegetables seem to keep indefinitely when stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator. I use 1-2 spoonfuls at a time. A single package can last me over a year. 

🍃 Use seasoned, pressed "dry" tofu 五香豆腐乾 (wǔxiāng dòufu gān) as an additional source of protein (read more about it here). This is a great way to reduce how much meat you eat, while still enjoying the flavor. The five spiced tofu is also delicious on its own. 


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