Yes – it is one of THOSE Wednesdays again! Welcome back to my journey through Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge by Grace Young, along with a virtual community’s shared lesson plan and culinary apprenticeship. This week – a hot and spicy one – good year round, cheerful dish to add to your kitchen standards.
Our most favourite Chinese restaurants in the South Bay are long-respected and well-known, though they are completely different. One, which I have been going to since they opened in the early 1980s, is in downtown Willow Glen, called Taiwan, and when family and friends who have moved away come back to visit it is one that is often requested. The gracious staff and beautifully dramatic tables with enormous, tall floral arrangements match the food, and more than a few Szechuan (Sichuan) dishes are represented on the menu.
When I first met my husband, he introduced me to a restaurant not far from work, called Hunan Taste. At lunch time, the earlier you can arrive the better, as it is packed within minutes with engineers and other folks from nearby offices and manufacturing in Silicon Valley. It is not uncommon to take an early lunch hour in order to be there when they open at 11 am. They are also busy in the evenings, but the lunchtime crush was my first exposure to hot and spicy food, and somehow spicy eggplant or hot sour soup was the cure to anything that might ail you. We still return there, with friends and family, even tho we no longer work nearby. Their menu has a mixture of dishes, many more of which are hot and spicy, that would be welcome in Hunan or Sichuan establishments. Most of these I have never tried to duplicate at home until I started wokking my way thru Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. As my experience grows, I am learning new lessons and gaining confidence in my techniques, and the great value of preparation. While the greatly talented chefs at both of these long-time favourite restaurants have nothing to fear against my amateur wok skills, I can enjoy and tailor my own wok adventure much more authentically now, and can appreciate their dazzling speed and daring – especially with the open kitchen view at Hunan Taste.
This week I ventured into spicy dishes with a plan, a real recipe (and not my sometimes too generous application of spicy black bean sauce and sriracha sauce!). The results were wonderful and even a surprise. All of the heat in this dish comes from the dry chilies (and a modest amount of garlic and ginger). Don’t panic if your julienne skills are novice level like mine!
The meat component is modest (and while this recipe would easily serve four along with other dishes, the meat portion is not out of line for two to share and make a complete meal of along with the vegetables) and is not extravagant at all. Learning how to best use flank steak, with the obvious grain, is now a kitchen origami I can solve! The time prepping is always greater than the actual stir-frying activity, and that is rewarding not just to the process-driven like myself, but to anyone wanting to quickly prepare a dinner with some fun drama at the wok, on a weeknight even. Carrots and celery are not exotic, the chilie peppers are a useful staple (I used Chile de árbol and left the seeds in, though for a milder dish you could tip them out before adding the peppers to the stir fry). I loved how the vegetables picked up the heat from contact with the whole, dry peppers.
When you complete the dish, everything has come together without any time-consuming or complex marinades (and if you wish to keep the sodium levels low, you could use a low sodium soy as I did for the small amount required and eliminate any extra salt).
I loved how this dish took the individual ingredients together so cleanly, without any sugary or salty fillers, or a large amount of saucing, yet it was perfect served over rice. I used a brown basmati, and set that to cook in my rice cooker while I was assembling the ingredients and chopping. This is where some folks might want a prep chef, but exactly where I find the precise measuring and slicing to be very meditative. My knife skills are decent, and I find it all relaxing to pay attention to what you are doing on the chopping board. It pushes any other concerns of the day out of your head for a while. It is why I cook.
When I cook a batch of rice, I usually make some extra. That makes it handy for next day’s breakfast or fried rice another night. For this dinner, I took advantage of the rice cooking to add some beech mushrooms after about 10 minutes (reducing the broth I cook the rice in a bit to compensate for the water the mushrooms give up). That also let me add another vegetable to the meal without changing the wok dish (where the excess moisture would also have been a problem).
The result was so good, and satisfying that it disappeared.
The next morning, a bonus – I could quickly stir fry some extra vegetables (zucchini and celery, more mushrooms), and use my wok to very quickly cook up fried eggs or a wok omelette. All so easy!
One of the things I love about methodically working my way through this cookbook is the companionship of a supportive group of other cooks. Some are professional cooks and writers (not all – there are plenty of home trained enthusiasts as well). There is often a great reservoir of knowledge generously shared by the community, often including the helpful support of Grace Young herself when a question comes up, and Matt Lardie, who moderates the group and created the Wok Wednesdays group. It’s a terific community!
We are asked to not publish the recipes here on our blog(s), so I encourage you to check out the book from your local library, buy a hard copy or even buy it electronically (tho I like the book best – I can add my notes and enjoy reading the stories beyond the recipes). You can find this recipe on page 70 of SFTTSE.