Easy Weeknight Stir-Fries From Saveur (RECIPE)

December 15, 2010 § 3 Comments

I’m not good at reading magazines. Every time I open one, a neurotic voice inside urges me to read every single word on every single page. For years, I felt guilty pitching a magazine into the recycling bin if I hadn’t read everything in it, even the articles I found boring. Which meant that magazines would pile up around the house, and I’d feel even guiltier.

So in a bid for self-preservation, I don’t subscribe to many magazines. But one I’ve subscribed to for as long as I can remember is Saveur. I love that I can be transported to 20 different states and nations reading one issue, and that every time I pick it up, I learn something new about a cuisine and a culture. It’s one magazine I thoroughly enjoy reading cover to cover, and for years, I’ve read through it soon after it landed in my mailbox.

Except lately. Somehow, I’ve gotten really behind in my Saveur reading. To lessen the guilt, I’ve been piling up the magazines in the closet — outta sight, outta mind. But then they became truly “outta mind,” until I realized that I had nearly a year’s worth of magazines squirreled away amidst the linens.

Just recently, I read the May issue…and with great interest, as it had a feature by Lillian Chou, who reconnected with her roots one stir-fried dish at a time in Beijing. I love Chinese food and learning to cook it well is another thing on my food-focused bucket list. Although my mother is ethnically Chinese, she and her family have hailed from Indonesia for generations, so growing up, she cooked gado gado (more on that dish here from Pepy of Indonesia-Eats) and nasi goreng (fried rice), not Chinese stir fries.

“A good wok is the foundation of good cooking: stir-frying is said to activate food with the wok’s energy.”–Lillian Chou, “A Stir-Fry Education,” Saveur

Reading about the women Lillian visited, cooking in simple kitchens often outfitted only with a blackened, seasoned wok; a wood-fired or gas stove; and a cutting board with a sharp cleaver, I was mesmerized. Taking in the descriptions of these women’s uncompromising focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients, impeccable knife skills yielding perfectly uniform, 1/8-inch thick strips of meats and veggies that will cook evenly and quickly, and elegantly efficient moves in their kitchens, and then seeing the step-by-step recipes for four simple stir-fries, I knew I had to try them myself.

I’ve tried three of the four, and the stir-fried tomato and eggs dish has become a staple in our home. When I made it earlier this week, I was thrilled that I got to use one of the jars of tomatoes I put up when they were at their flavor peak in September (see more about my 30-pounds-of-tomatoes extravaganza here), and that I could snip shallot greens from our new garden to garnish the stir-fry instead of having to buy green onions or chives.

Below are links to the recipes and my notes on them. For the original Saveur article, click here.

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STIR-FRIED TOMATO AND EGGS – Recipe here

Stir-fried tomatoes & eggs

My Notes on the Recipe

1 — Trust the recipe when it tells you to heat the wok until it’s smoking. You need the heat to prevent the food, especially eggs and meat, from sticking to the wok.

2 — Because I used canned tomatoes that had been peeled, you can see from the photo above that my dish turned out soupier than the one on Saveur’s website. It’s still delicious. Since it’s nearly winter, I’m guessing you’ll use canned tomatoes too — I think it’s better to use tomatoes canned at their flavor peak than mushy, tasteless ones flown in from South America.

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STIR-FRIED MUSHROOMS AND BOK CHOY – Recipe here

My Notes on the Recipe

1 — One of my favorite dishes at Charles Phan’s Out The Door is this one — even though it’s a Vietnamese, not a Chinese, restaurant, I always envied the technique with which the veggies were cooked. Every time, the bok choy would be crisp-tender, the mushrooms pleasantly chewy, and the entire thing melded together with fresh flavors. After trying this recipe, I’m pleased that I can now make this at home!

2 — I used fresh rather than dried shiitake mushrooms. I accidentally stir-fried them 3-4 minutes versus 2, but it was a lucky mistake: they browned deeply and became nearly crisp (think: skinny mushroom fries). Yum.

3 — It’s surprising how so few flavorings can yield such a tasty dish. I think the key is buying very fresh mushrooms and bok choy.

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STIR-FRIED PORK WITH LEEKS – Recipe here

Stir-fried pork with leeks

 

My Notes on the Recipe

1 — I used regular, rather than dark, soy sauce, and while my version didn’t turn out as deeply-hued as the one on Saveur’s site and likely would not be called authentic by the Beijing ladies featured in the article, my husband and I still enjoyed it.

2 — I also didn’t belabor the pork slicing. Instead of 2-inch by 1/8-inch strips, mine were probably more like 2 inches by 1/4 inch. I cooked the pork about 4 minutes instead of 2, and it turned out great.

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History and Nutritional Info

Bok choy: This member of the Chinese cabbage family has been cultivated in China for 6,000 years. A 1-cup serving of shredded bok choy has only 10 calories and is a significant source of vitamins A and C, folate, and calcium.

Leeks: Leeks have been cultivated since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Romans thought leeks would improve your singing voice; Emperor Nero was nicknamed Porrophagus (leek eater). Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, iron, fiber, and antioxidants that enhance cardiovascular health.

When in Season and How to Select, Store, & Prepare

Bok choy: In S.F., in season year-round. Select bok choy that have bright, fresh green leaves with no brown spots or wilting. Store bok choy in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to one week.

Leeks: In S.F., in season year-round. Select leeks that are firm, straight, and less then 1 1/2 inches in diameter (bigger ones are more fibrous), with dark green leaves, white necks, and no yellowing, wilting, cracks, or bruises. Store fresh leeks unwashed and untrimmed, wrapped loosely in a plastic bag to retain moisture, in your fridge, for one to two weeks. When preparing leeks, remove tough outer leaves, cut off the root, and slice leeks in half lengthwise. Fan out the leeks and hold them under running water to wash out all of the dirt (often, dirt will be hiding inside the leeks’ layers and folds). Most recipes call for the white and light green portion only and tell you to discard the dark green tops. I trim off the very top bit, then slice the dark green portion very thinly and use in stir fries, or I use the dark green parts for stock.

How to Grow Your Own*

I haven’t grown my own bok choy or leeks, but I am going to try planting leeks early next year (if it ever stops raining). I’ve read that bok choy is a bit trickier, since it attracts slugs and snails in hordes, which take up residence in our backyard as if they own the place. So I’ll probably rely on my friendly farmers’ markets for our bok choy needs, at least this coming year.

Leeks

How & when to plant leeks: Sow seeds outdoors (in S.F.) January through March. Direct-seed 1/2 inch deep and 1/2 inch apart, then thin seedlings to 3-6 inches apart. You can also plant purchased seedlings to get a head start.

How & when to harvest: Pull up baby leeks whenever you need them. For mature leeks, dig them when they are at least one inch in diameter, usually in September. Harvest as needed throughout winter but finish picking by March or they’ll go to seed.

*Adapted from Golden Gate Gardening by Pam Pierce, p. 230

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