Chile Masala Shrimp
30 min

Chile Masala Shrimp

Completely unrelated to Indian black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns, or prickly ash, as they are sometimes called, have been used in China for thousands of years. There are a few related varieties in parts of Kashmir and Nepal, like triphal and timur, but these are much milder than the assertive head-spinning Sichuan peppercorns. I encountered Sichuan peppercorns in a New York restaurant many years ago, and the instant mouth-numbing tingling I experienced blew my mind at first. However, it coated my mouth in such a way that I was unable to taste much for a few hours after, and this taught me to use the peppercorns judiciously. Now it is a flavor I crave frequently, especially during cold winter months when I want to keep my digestive juices flowing. This recipe is a foray into Indo-Chinese cuisine, and I love the tofu version (see notes & variations section) just as much. 

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Cook Time

30 minutes + refrigeration time



Step 1
Place the shrimp in a large bowl. Add the sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of the garlic, the turmeric, and salt and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
Step 2
Heat the sesame oil in a large wok or saucepan over high heat. Pop the cumin seeds, then add the kari leaves and cook for a couple of seconds. Immediately add the onions and the remaining 1 teaspoon garlic, lower the heat to low, and cook until translucent. Increase the heat to high, then add the carrots and cook for a minute or two. Decrease the heat again, cover, and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the carrots are softened.
Step 3
Turn the heat up to high, add the celery, bell pepper, shrimp, ginger puree, and peanuts, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the celery remains bright green, the shrimp are opaque, and the vegetables are still crisp. Add the vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, whole red chiles, and garam masala and lower the heat. Simmer for another minute, then turn the heat off. Garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro and serve.

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails on 

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon ground turmeric 

1 teaspoon sea salt 

1⁄3 cup toasted sesame oil 

1 teaspoon cumin seeds 

15 to 20 minced kari leaves 

1 cup minced white onion 

2 large carrots, sliced 1⁄2-inch thick on the diagonal 

2 celery stalks, sliced 1⁄2 inch thick on the diagonal 

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes 

2 tablespoons ginger puree

1⁄4 cup chopped toasted peanuts 

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 

1 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns 

10 to 12 whole red chiles 

1 teaspoon garam masala

Sesame seeds for garnish 

Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish 

Notes & Variations

  • Replace the shrimp with 1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu or oven-roasted cauliflower. With tofu, drain, marinate, and bake the whole block at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it has golden brown edges, then cool and cut into cubes. Marinate the cauliflower exactly the same way as the shrimp, spread on a baking sheet, then roast in a 350°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
30 min

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