Gluten-Free Yuxiang Zucchini ft. Pickled Chili Sauce


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Yuxiang Zucchini by The Mala Market

Gluten-Free Yuxiang Sauce

“Don’t mess with yuxiang!” my family warned me before I started experimenting with this gluten-free yuxiang zucchini dish. Yuxiang eggplant is one of their absolute favorite dishes, and they saw no need to change that beloved sauce even if it was being used with a different vegetable or a meat. But many of you do have a need to change this Sichuan super sauce to one that is gluten free or lower sodium, and Sichuan itself offers a solution.

Yuxiang eggplant—usually translated as eggplant in garlic sauce on restaurant menus—is traditionally made with Pixian doubanjiang, a mix of fermented fava beans and chilies that is the base of so many Sichuan dishes. But douban’s fermentation is kickstarted with wheat and maintained with salt, which makes it off-limits to a growing number of people. So I wanted to try a different approach with zucchini.

In Sichuan, yuxiang sauce is also frequently made with a pickled pepper paste, paolajiao, that is basically doubanjiang without the beans and wheat. Because douban and paojiao are both made from Sichuan’s erjingtiao chili, they express much the same flavor profile. Paojiao does not have the umami depth that douban has, but it has the same fermented chili taste, which goes a long way toward the douban flavor. In fact, the other famous yuxiang dish, yuxiang pork, uses the pickled pepper paste instead of douban, as do many cold dishes/salads.

The problem with cooking with Sichuan pickled peppers is that it is almost impossible to  find them outside Sichuan. Go here to read more about why this is so and how we came up with a substitute. [Since about 2022, it’s been much easier for us to source them for The Mala Market, so we usually have paolajiao in stock now.] But when we don’t have pickled peppers at hand, we make pickled erjingtiao ourselves from the freshly dried ones we sell at The Mala Market. They make a remarkably similar-tasting pickled chili to one made from fresh erjingtiao, if not quite as plump and “meaty.”

To back up a little bit, yuxiang, which literally means fish-fragrant, is the name for flavorings that were traditionally used in fish cooking—until, presumably, someone realized they are damn good on just about everything else as well. It’s basically the combination of doubanjiang—or pickled pepper paste—and lots of ginger and garlic in a light sweet-and-sour sauce (vinegar and sugar). I found that it is particularly good with zucchini, but you can also yuxiang beef,  chicken, tofu, peas, lotus root, potatoes, cucumber, and more.

Oh, and I did win over my family with this version of gluten-free yuxiang sauce. Fongchong ate most of the result of the recipe testing the minute I was finished photographing it. And after Craig and I ate what was left at dinner (with some roasted salmon), he said he hadn’t really even noticed the difference from the usual yuxiang. So there you go! I will definitely not mess with yuxiang eggplant, but the pickled-chili sauce is a winning alternative for other yuxiang dishes.

ingredients for yuxiang sauce
The key players in yuxiang sauce: Baoning vinegar, soy sauce, pickled erjingtiao chilies and the trinity of aromatics: garlic, ginger and green onions
Ingredients for yuxiang zucchini
Freshly dried erjingtiao chilies are quickly pickled in a salt brine; mince finely to make a Sichuan pickled pepper paste
yuxiang zucchini
All yuxiang dishes start with a base of pickled peppers, garlic and ginger
gluten-free yuxiang zucchini in wok
Stir-fry veg with the pickled chili base and add a shot of vinegar and sugar to make the classic yuxiang taste

For the other yuxiang dishes, check out Yuxiang Pork (Yuxiang Rousi, 鱼香肉丝) and Sichuan Yuxiang Eggplant (Yuxiang Qiezi, 鱼香茄子)! Or for more vegetarian Chinese dishes, go to our vegetarian recipe catalog.

Gluten-Free Yuxiang Zucchini ft. Pickled Chili Sauce

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


  • 1 to 1¼ pounds zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger,minced
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan pickled peppers*
  • 4 thin scallions, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
  • 1 tablespoon Baoning vinegar (or Zhenjiang vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons caiziyou (roasted rapeseed oil)*
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • ground Sichuan pepper to taste (optional)


  • Cut zucchini in half vertically and slice each half in half-moons about ¼-inch thick. Mince aromatics and pickled peppers. In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, corn starch and broth to make a sauce.
  • Heat wok over a high flame until wisps of heat start to rise. Add rapeseed oil and when smoking add the zucchini slices. Stir-fry about 2 minutes or just until the zucchini is starting to soften. Add salt and distribute throughout.
  • Push zucchini to the sides of the wok and add garlic, ginger, pickled peppers and scallions to the center well of the wok. Add a bit more oil if necessary to cook them briefly. Then mix the zucchini into the aromatics and stir-fry the whole lot for another couple minutes, taking care not to overcook.
  • Give sauce a stir to redistribute the corn starch, then add it to the wok and mix well. Continue cooking until the sauce has thickened and the zucchini is cooked through but still has a slight crunch. Plate and sprinkle Sichuan pepper powder over the top.


*Substitutions: See recipe on this blog for Sichuan pickled peppers or replace them with Pixian red-oil bean paste or, if you must, a non-Chinese pickled chili sauce such as sambal oelek (not sriracha). Replace Sichuan rapeseed oil with Chinese peanut oil or a neutral oil of your choice (no need to smoke off other oils).

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

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  1. Great dish! I just made this with all the same ingredients, except the unrefined rapeseed oil. The home fermented chiles add a really nice note. We also put in a bit of broccoli as well. Love the yu xiang vegetables!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Kasey! I’m so glad you tried making the fermented er jing tiao. I like the idea of adding some other veg into the mix as well.