Posts Tagged ‘stir-fry’

Using What You Have X: Double Layers of Vegetables

I’ve been yapping on for ten posts now about using what you have, and it occurs to me that today’s post shouldn’t be a recipe per se, but a series of comments about how I’m incorporating more of what I have into what I eat. So today is practical stuff about making sure you use the veggies and eggs that you grew or bought at the farmer’s market.
I have gorgeous broccoli in the garden right now:

One of the best ways to make sure that broccoli or any other fresh vegetable gets used is to prep it immediately. Cut off the florets, steam for five minutes, cool, and store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, ready to be added to a dish on short notice. If you plan to use the broccoli stem, peel it, cut the crispy inner pith into matchsticks or other convenient shapes, toss with a bit of lemon juice, and refrigerate for up to 2-3 days. If you don’t prepare the stem ahead of time, you are unlikely actually to use it. I have a pet goat to take care of such utilization emergencies, or you can compost it, so either prep it right away or just dispose of it in an ecologically sound fashion without getting all guilt-ridden. Life is too short to worry about whether you utilized every last fragment  of your vegetable.

Right now I have a lot of eggs handy and use them wherever a protein source is called for. Often I cook the yolks and a few whites into a sort of pancake and then cut it in strips to be added to stirfries, but in this case I didn’t want to bother and just scrambled two eggs and two yolks with some soy sauce and scallions in the wok and put them in a bowl to be added back to the stirfry later. This is much like the way that eggs are added to fried rice, and you can see in the photo above that it is not pretty and uniform but tastes fine.
Next let’s consider the Permaculture Pasta that I wrote about before. If you have some in the freezer, clearly, an Italian or Asian noodle dish can come together almost instantly. But if you don’t, fresh pasta is still a possibility. Today I timed myself from beginning to end making a batch exactly as described in that post but a little bigger, and I had pasta ready to cook in less than an hour. Admittedly, I have my set-up worked out and know all my moves, which saves some time. But my point is that it did not take that long to make enough leafy noodles for four, which for two people means that you have a good meal and another meal to serve a few days later. Also, there’s no need to fool around with tree leaves if you prefer not to. Any mild flavored green leaf is good here, and chard is a wonderful ingredient for making green noodles. Just remove midribs, steam it for five minutes and proceed. If you are wondering what to do with those leafy greens that you bought at the farmers market, this is a good use for them. I often use Lambsquarters to make green pasta.
I won’t say that much about stirfrying because I think most people know how to do it already and I have written about it recently. I will just say that keeping the heat high helps keep the sauce clean in flavor. Don’t lose your nerve and retreat to a simmer. Have everything ready, and then stop for nothing and the cooking part is all over in a few minutes. Your mis en place is more important here than maybe anywhere else in cooking.

This particular stirfry uses lavish amounts of garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce along with a little chile paste as the seasonings, and the only vegetables used are a large amount of steamed broccoli florettes and a small amount of chopped scallion. The “juice” is half a cup of broth with a teaspoon of cornstarch, two teaspoons of sugar or equivalent sweetener, and a tablespoon of rice vinegar. Soy sauce is added as needed during cooking. The eggs were pre-scrambled and ready to add at the end.

A pot of salted water is brought to a boil and the noodles boiled just until barely done, less than a minute in the case of this delicate green fresh dough. Drain the noodles quickly, return to the pot, sprinkle lavishly with soy sauce and at least 2 tablespoons of Asian sesame oil, and toss around a little to keep the noodles from sticking to each other. Set aside, covered. Now quickly, heat your wok  over highest heat, put in some cooking oil of your choice, sauté the chopped garlic and ginger for several seconds until the pieces start to look opaque and the fragrance comes up, add the scallions, chile paste, and oyster sauce, throw in the steamed broccoli florettes, and stirfry for a few minutes until done to your taste. Stir the “juice” quickly because the cornstarch settles to the bottom. Toss in the scrambled eggs and the “juice“ and boil hard for another half a minute until it thickens. Divide the noodles into four bowls, or into two bowls and a container for the refrigerator, put the broccoli mixture on top, drizzle with a little more soy sauce and sesame oil, and relish your double layers of vegetables, triple layers if you count the greens that the hens ate.
For that second meal of noodles later in the week, you can cook a completely different dish to go on top or, if you are lazy or pressed for time or not too hungry, the noodles are delicious just reheated, divided into serving bowls, and drizzled generously with additional sesame oil and soy sauce and some crushed roasted peanuts on top. A generous grating of white pepper is good with this. If you want to drizzle in some chile oil, be my guest. A good grade of roasted sesame oil is essential to a good flavor, and I like the Japanese Kadoya brand best.

Living in Interesting Times: Improvisational Stir-fries

 


The current world travails started me thinking about thrift. The most financially difficult period of my life was when I lived in Manhattan on a beginning designer’s salary and paid over 3/4 of my salary in rent. It probably goes without saying that I had no health insurance or paid sick leave and lived in constant fear of illness, and couldn’t afford any of the usual entertainments. It was one of the most useful periods of my life too, because it’s when I learned to make reading and cooking fill my entertainment function. I spent wonderful hours digging through the NY Public Library’s collection of cookbooks (free entertainment,) walking miles to Manhattan’s Chinatown (exercise +health maintenance+entertainment/sightseeing,) shopping in the wondrous markets there (thrift+entertainment,) then walking back and cooking dinner (nutrition+health maintenance+delicious entertainment.) I bought a huge carbon steel wok and cleaver for less than $10 each and with one thrift-shop pot to cook rice, one rice bowl, and one set of porcelain-tipped chopsticks, I was ready to cook anything.

I wouldn’t want to live like that now, and I’m appropriately grateful to have health insurance and sick leave. But I still love to channel the spirit of a thrifty Chinese spiritual grandmother and cook up a tasty stir-fry now and then. Rice is in very short supply in my area right now, but I have enough to cook up a pot of rice, add condiments to vegetables from my garden, and have a delicious meal for under $5 for two people. I wanted to use up some of the rich gold yolks that my chickens produce abundantly, and it occurred to me that frying them quickly into a sort of yolk pancake would yield a texture that could work well in a quick, explosive stir-fry.
Last year’s Fordhook Swiss chard is throwing up beautiful meaty leaves right now, so I started with four big chard leaves and four fat perennial green onions.

I tend to divide improvisational Chinese dishes into cooked rice (the base,) vegetables (the bulk,) protein (meat, eggs, etc.,) texture foods (often mushrooms in my kitchen,) and seasonings.  As with any improvisation, don’t throw stuff in at random. Think carefully to create a harmony. And everything has to be prepped and ready before you start. I assemble everything in little piles and pinch dishes on an 18×24” cutting board. I pulled the chard leaves away from the stems, cut the leaves in crosswise strips, and chopped the stems in 1/4” cross sections. The white part of the green onions were cut in 1/4” sections, and a few of the leaves cut into diagonal slivers.  I cooked five beaten egg yolks into a pancake in a hot skillet with avocado oil, let it cool, and cut it into long 1/4” wide slivers. A handful of sliced dried tree ears were hydrated in hot water. Tree ears are a texture food, and if they aren’t available, just omit them.  A couple of tablespoons of fermented black beans were soaked in cold water to reduce their salt load a little, then squeezed dry. A piece of ginger 1”x2” was cut into cross sections, a bulb end of green garlic likewise, then the two chopped together into pieces the size of coarse crumbs. A half cup of water had a tablespoon of rice vinegar, two teaspoons of sugar, a heaping teaspoon of cornstarch, and about 2 teaspoons of oyster sauce stirred in, and avocado oil, soy sauce, and Asian roasted sesame oil were standing by. I used some chile oil too, but you can leave it out if you don’t care for heat.

The rice is cooked and served up into heated bowls, and your prepped ingredients stand ready next to the wok or skillet. From here it goes so fast that you can’t believe it. Heat the cooking vessel fiery hot over highest heat, pour in some avocado oil, wait 30 seconds, put in the chopped ginger and garlic and fermented beans, and stir with a cooking paddle for a few seconds, just until the ginger scent reaches your nose. Throw in the drained tree ears, the chard stems, and the white part of the scallions, stirring vigorously for a few seconds after each addition. Add a few shakes of soy sauce and stir all this around for about 30 more seconds, then stir in the chard leaves and slivered egg-yolk pancakes. When the chard leaves look done, about a minute later if you were bold and kept the heat at maximum, add the water mixture (stirring hastily to get the cornstarch in suspension before adding to the wok,) and stir while it boils fiercely and thickens, another minute or less. Stir in the scallion leaves and serve over hot rice. Sprinkle with soy sauce and finish with a drizzle of sesame oil. Add some chile oil if you want to. The clarity relies on keeping the heat explosive. If you lose your nerve or pause at any point, your sauce will get sludgy and the purity of the taste  be lost.

If you want a serious education in Chinese cooking, I recommend any book by Fuschia Dunlop, and her Hunanese Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook may be my favorite. I dislike Chairman Mao (and all other dictators) pretty intensely but his home province has created some of this world’s truly delicious food. The old classic that I first learned from, Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook, is still around and turns up on EBay and used book sites. It has excellent discussions of ingredients and achieving the true taste, and the recipes are as good as ever.

Explosive frying, stir-frying at very high heat, is a good technique to have in your back pocket for almost any vegetable. They have to be sliced and trimmed to appropriate sizes so that they will cook through. Therefore, the technique doesn’t save kitchen time, it just shifts time to prep, with the cooking happening in 5-10 exciting minutes at the end. It does add a special flavor of its own, the famous “breath of the wok.”

Another Great Green


One of my new trials this year was the Asian hybrid green Misome. I got my seed from Nichols Garden Nursery, one of my favorite sources for unusual and useful seeds. It’s a hybrid of tat soi, a vegetable that I love but can only grow in the fall. I planted Misome in earliest spring and it grew beautifully, producing deep green savoyed leaves that shone in the sun like the deepest jade. It had no insect or disease problems. Like many mustards, the only secret is to plant it early enough. The flavor was mild and ever so slightly mustardy. I used the youngest leaves in salads and the older ones stir-fried. It held for a surprising time in the garden, considering our early and very hot and windy spring, and when it bolted a few weeks ago, I pulled up the plants and fed them to my goat Magnolia, who was ecstatic over them. I like to believe that the dark green color indicates a high level of beta-carotenes, but I have no data to prove that. I do know from experience that it’s delicious. I’ll be planting another crop in early fall. Keep it in mind for next spring, or order some seed now while you’re thinking about it.

One of many ways to stir-fry greens:
This is too simple to be written as a recipe. Think of it as a basic technique that works for a wide variety of greens. Peel and chop a clove of garlic, a 1/2″ piece of ginger, and a 1″ piece of turmeric. Have ready a tablespoon of Thai fish sauce, a tablespoon of palm sugar or agave nectar (a surprisingly good substitute) and half a cup or so of coconut milk (not the low-fat kind). Thoroughly wash a pound of misome leaves, whirl them dry, and cut them across in 1/2″ slices. Heat a large wok very hot, put in about 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and dump in the chopped garlic, ginger, and turmeric and fry, stirring constantly, for a minute or until the fragrance comes up, which may be less than a minute. Be careful not to burn them. Now put in the strips of misome, fry a few minutes while turning regularly, and then add the fish sauce and coconut milk. Continue to stir-fry over very high heat until the coconut milk thickens, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed, and serve immediately. This is surprisingly satisfying by itself with jasmine rice for lunch. If you can’t find fresh turmeric, leave it out. Do not under any circumstances use musty dried turmeric instead.
Dishes like this will give you a glow of virtue and good health that goes on for hours. Perhaps it’s a true virtue of the greens, or maybe it’s just the glow of achievement that comes of eating what you grew. Either way, it feels good.