Tibetan Sepen (Hot Chilli Dip)

If you love a bit of chilli heat on the side, this delicious Tibetan Sepen recipe is for you! From the Taste Tibet cookbook by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa, this condiment combines the fiery heat of hot chilli flakes with the tingling numbing sensation and flavour of Sichuan peppercorns, the latter an especially loved ingredient in Tibetan cuisine. Although it stores well in the fridge for several months, a single batch rarely lasts that long once you develop a taste for it and realise how versatile a condiment it is!

Taste Tibet Sepen (Hot Chilli Dip)

Find out more about this beautiful book in my full review of Taste Tibet by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa.

Taste Tibet Sepen (Hot Chilli Dip)

This unique and fiery dip can be used as the basis of many different chilli sauces, and is the perfect accompaniment to most Tibetan dishes. We hope that it will become your go-to condiment. The principal ingredient is chilli, but as it is slow-cooked with Sichuan pepper and other spices, there is a gentle release of heat in the mouth and it’s a complex and intriguing set of flavours, rather than a sudden chilli hit. The good news is that sepen is the gift that keeps on giving: because it’s a fairly dry mix you can store it in the fridge for many months, taking a bit out at a time, and maybe adding a little light soy sauce or Chinkiang black vinegar, depending on what you are enjoying it with and how you fancy it on the day.
Author Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa


  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 6 cm (2½ inch) piece of ginger, washed but not peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (yerma)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, or ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 170 ml (⅔ cup) cooking oil
  • 50 g (1¾ oz) hot chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil


Yeshi says ‘A jam jar is a good vessel to store sepen in, but whatever you use, make sure the sepen is cool before you put it away. It will keep in the fridge for months, but can disappear surprisingly fast once addiction takes hold …


  • In a blender or small food processor, blend together the garlic, ginger, salt, Sichuan peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds to a rough paste, adding a tablespoon of water to help everything move a bit more easily. (If you don’t have a blender, you can chop or grind everything by hand – just make sure that everything is as finely chopped or crushed as you can get it.)
  • Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a frying pan over a medium heat. When it is hot, add the blended ingredients to the pan and cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure nothing burns. You can add a drop of water if necessary, but definitely don’t add too much.
  • When you have a nice, dry paste, add the chilli and mix everything through, then turn off the heat and set aside to let the flavours mellow a little in the pan.
  • Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat 150 ml (5½ fl oz) of oil until it is very hot (you can test it by dropping in a tiny amount of your chilli mix – if it’s hot enough, you should get a good sizzle). Put the frying pan back over a low heat and carefully pour the hot oil into the pan – it should really sing as it hits the chilli. Stir briskly for 4–5 minutes. Keep a very close eye on it, and take it off the heat immediately if it looks like it’s starting to burn. As soon as the chilli darkens to a rich reddish-brown, it is ready.
  • Quickly decant the sepen into a serving bowl and keep stirring for a further minute, then add the sesame oil and stir it through. Allow it to cool a little before serving.

Taste Tibet Sepen (Hot Chilli Dip)


If you decide to buy this book after reading our content, please consider clicking through our affiliate link, located below.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Taste Tibet: Family Recipes from the Himalayas by Julie Kleeman and Yeshi Jampa from publisher Murdoch Books. Book food photography by Ola O. Smit; Book travel photography by Keiko Wong. 

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating