Fiery, Tingly Kung Pao Tofu

Credit…Kelly Marshall for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

With its piney slap and mouth-numbing tingle, the Sichuan peppercorn lends a distinct and irresistible character to many dishes from that region. Yet from 1968 to 2005 it was actually illegal to import it to the United States, because it was thought that the dried prickly ash berry (the Sichuan peppercorn) might carry a bacterial disease that threatens citrus trees. During that dark time, American versions of dishes like kung pao chicken simply left out the spice, replacing its pungency and heat with extra red chiles and ginger. Tasty, sure. But tingly? Not so much.

Happily, we live in a golden age of legalized and readily available Sichuan peppercorns. Ham El-Waylly puts them to superlative use in his kung pao tofu. Substituting pillowy tofu cubes for the usual chicken breast, he stir-fries them with bell pepper and roasted peanuts for sweetness and crunch, and adds just enough dried red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns for a fiery bite. Serve it over rice for a meal that will make you grateful this once-forbidden fruit has returned to our shores.

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Kung Pao Tofu

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Spring is dragging its feet here in the Northeast, where cool, rainy evenings have stretched on for weeks. The silver lining: This is great sheet-pan weather. Not only does turning on the oven help banish the damp, but your sheet pan is also the perfect place to showcase your seasonal farmers’ market haul, like asparagus and peas. I’ve got two timely recipes to help you do just that.

The first comes from Yossy Arefi, featuring asparagus and chicken thighs that are glazed with a miso-honey marinade and broiled until singed and glossy. The broiler makes this dish particularly speedy, needing only 10 minutes to cook. Next up, there’s Dan Pelosi’s sheet-pan roasted salmon with pea pesto. This one takes a touch longer, but the combination of crispy roasted potatoes and velvety salmon dabbed with garlicky pea pesto is a springtime delight.

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