by Ernie Diaz
There are two kinds of people – those who see eating out as a treat, and those who see home-cooking as a treasure. If you live in China, you probably belong to the latter group. And if not- especially as winter grips us – why on earth not? Add to the ever-inflating prices and suspect cooking oil the prospect of the postprandial taxi search, standing on a sub-zero corner while cabbies take revenge on the world, waving dismissively as they zoom by.
Leave the stained table cloths and botched orders to the lazy. A half-hour in the kitchen and you can return to your computer distractions fresh, aglow with the satisfaction of having accomplished something offline. These recipes are Chinese, but not laboriously so, and geared for rib-sticking on the coldest of China winter days, pollution mask not included.
Beef & Broccoli
What your friends back home think good Chinese food is. Sorry, no Orange Chicken in this edition, or other Lucky Panda staples. Even if this is on the menu at your local family Chinese restaurant, odds are the beef separates with just a hard look, and time has turned the broccoli a jaundiced yellow. Get the ingredients fresh, and you have a dish that sizzles in the pan and warms your gut after a commute home’s jump-the-taxi queue antics.
What You’ll Need:
5 cups of chopped broccoli, less stemmy = more tasty.
12 ounces flank steak
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine, or sherry, if you’re really so provincial your supermarket doesn’t have an Asian foods aisle
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, without which your sauce is so much dog-water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce – Amazon has it, if your grocer doesn’t
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce, or Sriracha if you’re hip, add more the less Caucasian you are
2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1. Steam broccoli over an inch of boiling water until bright green, about 1 minute. Don’t walk off! You’ll miss your window. Drain.
2. Cut steak like wood, grain-wise into 2-inch-wide strips. Cut them strips across the grain into 1/4-inch slices. Combine steak, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, 1 tbsp. rice wine (or sherry), cornstarch, salt and pepper in a bowl. Stir with righteous intent. Mix Hoisin sauce, chile sauce and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine (or sherry) in a small bowl.
3. Heat a wok over high heat until flicked water vaporizes on contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon oil, and add the beef. Leave it unmolested to sizzle for 1 minute, til it begins to sear. Only then do you stir-fry until lightly browned – not well done! Just for one minute. Set aside.
4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the wok, plus onion, then cook until semi-translucent; half a minute should do, or your flame’s too low. Add the broccoli and stir until the two veggies are just getting acquainted, a quarter minute, say. Add the beef and its drippings. Now it’s time to stir the Hoisin mixture and swirl it into the wok. Stir-fry until the beef is just cooked through, more than a minute and you’re a flavor-killer. Add some more chili sauce if you don’t know who Lawrence Welk is.
Non-Spicy Spicy Noodles
In China, all the refinement of 50 centuries’ culinary dabbling has been sacrificed to the Spicy Gods. It’s mass neurosis, concerning transference of the discomfort missing in the modern Chinese lifestyle, but so prevalent in our forebearers’, truly. Dan-dan noodles, simple as they are, constitute a sublimely hearty soup, until corrupted with the penitential chili oil. So we’ve left it out. Guilt is a useless emotion. Ask Nietzche.
What You’ll Need:
2 tablespoons hot sesame oil
1 pound of ground beef
1 bunch of scallions, sliced skinny
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger
4 cups of chicken broth
3/4 cup water
3 cups thinly-sliced bok choy
8 ounces dried Chinese noodles, rounded, not flat. What are we, Shanxi ren?
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 small cucumber, sliced matchstick-sized
1. Heat the first tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add ground beef, all but 2 tablespoons of the scallions, garlic and ginger and cook, poking the beef until no longer an innocent pink but a wizened grey – 5 minutes will break the toughest chuck. Set aside.
2. Add broth, water, bok choy, noodles, soy sauce, vinegar and the other tablespoon of oil to the pan. Bring to a medium boil – you know, bubbling vigorously, not violently. Stir as the spirit moves you, until the noodles are tender. More than five minutes and you have mush. Return Now get that beef back into the mix, stirring with disinterested authority. Sprinkle those cuke matches and remaining scallions on top, Chef Yan.
Chinese Green Beans
Yes, they are a staple of the $5.99 buffet, where they inevitably taste like a blasted burger, thanks to the low-grade oil and overcooking. Cooking them on the right flame, for the right time, with the right amount of oil, makes all the difference between Pamela Anderson pre-and post-Hep C.
What You’ll Need
1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon Chinese bean sauce – seriously, Cletis? OK, substitute that Hoisin sauce you ordered for the Broccoli Beef.
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 scallions, chopped thin, white part only – no offense
1/2 teaspoon chili paste
3 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil for stir-frying – no more, no less
Wash the green beans and drain thoroughly. Cut those needley ends off. Cut again, diagonally, into pieces 2 inches long.
Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
Heat the wok on medium heat, until you can feel the heat with your palm two inches off the surface. Then add 2 tablespoons of oil, but drizzle it oil down the sides of the wok so it’s coated, instead of the puddle effect. When the oil is crackling hot, add the beans. Stir-fry for 7 – 10 minutes. Sorry, time is a construct we unwittingly agree on. Stir fry until the bean skins pucker and are just starting to brown. Congratulations, you’ve reached the ineffable line between tender and mushy. Remove the beans before you blow it.
Heat that last tablespoon of oil in the wok the same way you did the first two. Add the chopped garlic, ginger and scallions. Stir-fry for just a few crucial seconds, until the wok’s immediate vicinity is aromatic. If someone asks what’s cooking from the living room, you’ve failed. Add the chili paste.
Now add the sauce and the green beans. Toss the ingredients together and serve hot. Contemplate the enhanced experience of food you had a hand in preparing, the dignity of manual labor, and other thoughts worthy of Epictetus.