Hunan’s Smashed Chilies with Century Eggs, or léi làjio, is a dish with bold, spicy flavors. As an appetizer, I highly recommend trying it at Hunan restaurants in China. Seeing how we have an abundance of peppers right now from our garden, I felt it was time to cook this dish.
Why Smashed Peppers
The character “擂,” léi, denotes the action of pounding or smashing. Using a mortar and pestle, the components in this recipe are pulverized until their flavors blend, and they become more than the sum of their parts.
For some reason, when vegetables are “smashed,” they take on a whole new flavor. Very much like our well-liked Smashed Asian Cucumber Salad, this method creates numerous crevices into which the dressing and other seasonings can seep. It also imparts a distinct and pleasurable chewing feel to the meal.
Vegetables like steamed or roasted eggplant, which are both wonderful when mashed, are sometimes added to the recipe as well. With an abundance of peppers on hand, I substituted them for the eggplant and created this variation, reserving the latter for meals like Eggplant with Garlic Sauce.
Most recipes call for long spicy green peppers, which can vary widely in heat. Any moment could be the one in which you get your socks knocked off.
The peppers we use, known as Fushimi peppers, are similar in appearance to bell peppers but are uniformly mild. Do not restrict yourself; make use of what is at hand and/or what you enjoy eating.
Charring the peppers over hot coals is ideal, but that’s only sometimes feasible, so an open flame on the stove works just as well.
- 1 pound of chilies or peppers of your choice
- 2-3 century eggs
- 6-8 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
- salt (to taste)
- Peppers after being washed, drained and patted dry. The seeds should be removed from chilies that are very fiery before they are charred.
- To broil, place a metal rack over your stove’s grate (I used the rack from my toaster oven!) and heat to medium-high. Roast the peppers over an open flame, frequently turning, until the skin is roasted and wrinkled. Be careful not to overcook them. Charring the skin is the primary objective.
- Put it in a cool place until you can handle the temperature. If your chilies are really fiery, you may want to wear food-safe gloves for the next step. Remove the pepper’s outer layer. You can leave some on for a burnt flavor boost or get rid of it all.
- Crush the raw garlic with a pestle and mortar, then add the roasted peppers, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and light soy sauce. Keep mashing until everything is evenly blended.
- Prepare century eggs by peeling and dicing them into bite-sized pieces. Toss them into the mortar with the peppers. Using a rubber spatula, thoroughly combine all the ingredients and season to taste with salt.