Kung pao root vegetable salad with aromatic chili oil and tahini


I am no stranger to aromatic chili oil. I make it often to accompany dumplings, noodles, and rice. In fact, in recent times, I have come to view this oil as my go-to spicy condiment, topping everything from porridge, to soup, roasted veggies and salads.

This month, I have the honor of joining Lucini Italia as a brand ambassador. For me, working with brands comes with responsibilities, especially in being true to both the product I am working with, while remaining authentic to my food philosophies and style of cooking. I’m absolutely thrilled that working with Lucini Italia has already inspired me to try new ways of cooking with one of my pantry essentials, olive oil.

And so, to this recipe! It is loosely inspired by Mission Chinese Food’s Kung Pao Beet dish which I recently enjoyed with friends. While I’m normally not a fan of culturally-confused food, Mission Chinese’s adventurous fusion take on Asian classics really excites me. Their green tea soba noodles hit the spot every time. Not to mention their killer cocktail and wine list.

Kung Pao is not a dish I grew up eating (probably because it’s not an authentic Chinese dish ;)) but still, the flavours are mind boggling. Inspired by my partnership with Lucini Italia, and their deliciously zesty Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I have created my favourite Asian condiment, aromatic chili oil, using olive oil in place of the usual neutral oil. I have to say, aromatic chili oil made with olive oil has been a revelation - it has more of a ‘bite’, offering a fresh, peppery finish that perfectly amplifies the aromatic spices in the mix. This aromatic oil is the perfect pick-me-up for seasonal root vegetables; here I have sautéed potato, sweet potato, celery and beets, drizzled them generously with chili oil, and finished with the earthy and nutty tahini. There are so many dazzling flavours here. A beautiful end of winter salad.


Kung pao root vegetables with aromatic chili oil and tahini

Serves 3-4

extra virgin olive oil                                                                                                      

500g starchy potato (such as Idaho/russet), scrubbed and cut into 1cm cubes
300g sweet potato, scrubbed and cut 1cm cubes
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
250g boiled beets, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
2 sticks celery, cut into 1cm slices                                                                                                

1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp tahini
handful peanuts, chopped
Sesame seeds

Aromatic chili olive oil                                                                                                                        

½ cup extra virgin olive oil                                                                                                                  

3 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

1 inch piece of ginger, finely sliced

3 scallions, white part only (save green parts for serving)

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp sea salt flakes


To make the aromatic chili oil, heat the oil in a small pan over medium heat, along with the star anise, cinnamon stick, ginger, white part of scallions, fennel seeds, and Sichuan peppercorns. When it starts to bubble, immediately reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, on very low heat, allowing it to bubble gently and constantly (don’t let the spices burn). Allow the oil to cool for about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the red chili flakes and salt; mix well. While the oil is still warm, remove the spices (star anise, cinnamon etc) and VERY CAREFULLY pour the oil over the red chili flakes and salt. Stir well. This oil can be stored in a sterilized jar for up to 6 months.

For the vegetables, heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large fry pan. Add the potato and sweet potato and stir to coat in the oil. Add the broth, cover and cook for 4-5 minutes on medium heat until the potato is crisp tender. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add a good drizzle of olive oil, add beets and panfry for 3 minutes on medium, shaking the pan every now and then, until slightly caramelized. Add a touch more oil, and then add the celery, garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook for 1 minute. Add the potato, sweet potato and soy sauce and combine well. Cook for 5 minutes until the potatoes are fully tender.

Thin the tahini with 1-2 tablespoons of water and season with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper.  

To serve, spoon the vegetables onto a serving plate, drizzle generously with the aromatic chili olive oil, followed by a drizzle of tahini. Scatter with scallions, peanuts, and sesame seeds.



SALADHetty McKinnon