One of the things I admired most about Chinese food culture was its love of snacks. Chinese people loved snacks, and it showed: no long travel journey in China would be complete without a plastic bag full of dried noodles, fruit, pickled chicken feet, peanuts, sunflower seeds or processed sausage tubes. And, of course, a thermos full of hot water. If you were really lucky, “Uncle Ganbei” would be on your train – one trouser leg rolled up, belly protruding from under his shirt, glass of baijiu in hand and packet of nuts in the other. He’d be the life and soul of the party…in the sleeper car of the train.
Even when not traveling or drinking, Chinese people always had a snack around and were very happy to share with you whether you wanted it or not. Many a time I have been on the receiving end of such insistent (and in the case of pickled chicken feet, definitely unwanted) snack based diplomacy.
As my tastes run to the spicy, I developed a preference for fiery peanuts seasoned with Szechuan peppercorns and dried red chiles; something that was available practically anywhere. Even though I wasn’t much of a snacker, I loved munching on ‘deez nuts’ (as the kids on the internet say). With a an added touch of honey, the end result is a salty, sweet and spicy delicious treat that’s great for parties, even if you’re with Uncle Ganbei knocking back a couple liters of 100 proof jet fuel (otherwise known as baijiu) together.
220g (~8 oz in weight) peanuts
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp ginger powder
1 tbsp szechuan peppercorns
15 dried chiles (cut in half and remove seeds)
Over low-medium heat in a wok or frying pan, toast together dried chiles, Szechuan peppercorns, ginger powder and peanuts for about 5 minutes or until peanuts pick up some color and red chiles have darkened.
Add 2 tbsp of honey and toss together until everything is evenly coated. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 175C/350F for 20-30 min or until golden brown. You want the peanuts to have a crunchy coating, so if it is still gooey, cook longer. Make sure to give a stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent burning. Once out of the oven, sprinkle with sea salt and let cool.