Chunky Bacon and Cucumber Salad (Sichuan 'Kai-Wei' Salad)
In Chengdu and all over Sichuan they love cured pork and for starters you will often find a delicious spicy cucumber salad in vinegar and Sichuan pepper oil. Inspired by these ingredients, I wanted to recreate the flavours at home and so I have chosen to use smoked lardons, which give this dish its smoky saltiness, and Sichuan peppercorns to provide numbing heat. The cucumber and rice vinegar help to cut through those flavours, making this an unbelievably addictive and moreish dish. A great starter, it helps to 'kai-wei' open up the appetite. If you are vegetarian, substitute chestnut and shiitake mushrooms for the lardons.
Heat a wok or pan over a high heat and add the groundnut oil. Add the dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, and stir-fry for a few seconds, until fragrant. Add the star anise, lardons, and chiles, and stir-fry until the lardons have turned golden brown at the edges.
Add the rice wine or sherry, vinegar, and sesame oil, and stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the cucumber, and stir-fry for another few seconds.
Season with the sea salt, dried chile flakes, and lime juice.
Arrange the salad on a serving plate, drizzle over the chile oil, and garnish with the chopped cilantro and peanuts, if using. Serve immediately.