Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stir Crazy

Sometimes, the vegetables pile up. (I get big boxes of them from a CSA.) I like to try new recipes using this or that, and then something else gets neglected. When this happens, I try to take a look at what I have and improvise a soup, a pasta dish, or a stir fry, any of which will use up more than one and sometimes several vegetables in one dish. Last year, it was this kind of thinking that led to a pleasantly bitter stir fry with the mustard greens and green beans residing in my refrigerator together, both in desperate need of a new home.

Normally, I don’t bother thinking of a stir fry as a recipe. I usually just fling vegetables, and aromatics (and often proteins as well) around on high heat in a wok and splash things like soy sauce or tamari, rice vinegar or Chinese black vinegar, and something like Shaoxing wine on them, and serve it over rice or noodles. This time, however, I liked the way the ingredients worked and played together so well that I actually wrote down the details of the dish. Then, I waited a year to have both mustard greens and green beans in my possession at the same time, and tried it again. Hey, what do you know…still good!

Even though I wrote this up as a recipe, the vegetables are really just suggestions. You could use other spicy or dark bitter greens. We got a nice Asian sauté mix in our CSA box this week that I’m sure would work just as well. Alas, we didn’t get more green beans, but I think broccoli would work nicely, too. (Plus broccoli florets have all those nooks and crannies that so nicely trap stir fry sauces.) You could also use cabbage or even celery instead of the bok choy. Add a protein if you wish, such as chicken, tofu, beef, shrimp or pork.

Chinese black vinegar and Shaoxing wine are becoming easier to find in supermarkets and co-ops (and if you have an Asian market nearby they’re probably there.) I prefer their tastes, but you could use rice vinegar and dry sherry in their places. Since I don’t know anyone who just keeps a bottle of dry sherry lying around, it may take you as much effort to get a hold of that. You’ll definitely be able to find it, however, at a liquor store or wine and spirits shop. I have to say I don’t recommend the so-called “cooking wines” in the supermarkets (probably in the aisle with the vinegars), but, honestly, they probably wouldn’t totally ruin your meal either.

I find that the stir fry experience is much more enjoyable if I take the time and make the space to prepare everything before I even heat the wok

I hate flying around, trying to chop something in the 30 seconds it takes the garlic and ginger to cook or missing an ingredient in my rush…and then burning myself. If this lifestyle suits you, by all means knock yourself out. I find a vegetable stir fry to somehow taste better, however, when I’ve loved the process rather than resented it. The mustard greens and darkened peanuts should be pleasantly bitter rather than the object of my bitterness. I suppose you could say I prefer to be more Zen than “stir” crazy.

Mustard Greens and Green Bean Stir Fry with Peanuts
Have your accompaniments, such as rice or noodles cooked and ready before you begin stir frying.

3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
½ cup raw peanuts
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1 cup thinly-sliced onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 dried chile pepper, broken into a few pieces
2 cups chopped bok choy, stems and leaves separated
2 cups chopped trimmed green beans
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
2 tablespoons Shoxing wine
1 bunch mustard greens, thick stems removed and discarded, chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed well with ¼ cup water

1. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the peanuts and stir fry until just beginning to darken in color. Watch carefully and avoid burning the peanuts. Carefully remove the peanuts with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil to the hot oil in the wok. Add the onions and stir fry until they begin to brown and soften, about 2 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and chile pepper and stir fry 30 seconds.

3. Add the bok choy stems and the green beans. Stir fry about 3 minutes, or until beginning to get tender. Add the soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar and Shoxing wine.

4. Place the mustard greens and bok choy greens on top of the other vegetables and liquid. All to steam about 1 minute, or until the greens begin to wilt. Stir the greens down into the rest of the ingredients and stir fry until the greens are completely wilted.

5. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil and the browned peanuts. Serve with hot cooked rice.
Makes about 4 servings. Leftovers are great reheated the next day.

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