Notes from a Past Life – Chilli steak with just-cooked greens

Back in the day… Back in January 2004 the Celtic Tiger was still roaring. We had children who had never experienced recession. I was working full-time in a job that meant I rarely got home before 9 pm each evening. My adult children were beginning to spread their wings. Claire was in London working with Jamie Oliver, and Shane was in Edinburgh designing websites, almost overlapping with Shan who studied there and who he was destined to meet in Beijing in 2010. To me they seemed far away but, with hindsight, they were so close, barely across the water. We Irish seemed invincible then, confident, adventurous, the world our oyster… back in the day.
Even then I loved to cook and have friends over for dinner, but there was very little time so I was always on the look out for recipes that were easy and fast to prepare. I used to look forward to the Food and Drink section of the Sunday Tribune magazine and I would cut out and keep recipes that appealed to me. A dinner menu, published in that newspaper on the 18th January, 2004 with the headline “Cold Comfort”, was ideal because it didn’t require much more than an hour to put together a respectable meal. That menu, with its starter of Mango Goat’s Cheese and Parma Melts, a main of Chilli Steak with just-cooked greens and Warm Chocolate Puddings for dessert, became my dinner party menu of choice for most of that year and every friend I have ever entertained has been at the receiving end of that mango and goats cheese starter.

Chilli-steak with just cooked greens

I had forgotten all about it, until last Monday night when my friend Brenda asked me to dig out our old recipe for ginger biscuits and I came upon it in a folder at the back of a cupboard. Nostalgia swept over me and memories came flooding back – of the frantic rush to get a meal on the table for guests, of Green & Black’s chocolate simmering in the pot, of peeling mangoes as the juices ran out of them, of the fragrance of cumin from marinating beef. Ah, those were the days…
And as I amused myself reading the article about dank January days and noted that “Pak choi or Chinese cabbage is now widely available in shops and Asian stores”, I realised that the author was one Catherine Cleary. Could it be “our” Catherine Cleary (@Catherineeats), whose restaurant reviews are now the first thing I read  every Saturday in the Irish Times, I wondered. And YES, it was. She tells me she wrote those recipes after their first Christmas as parents when they were in no mood for January denial.
So with her permission and a big thank you to her for many happy dinners with friends, I’m reproducing the chilli-steak recipe below and you can also see my efforts to re-create the other two recipes on the blog.

This is a very simple and light dish with relatively mild flavours. The sour chilli marinade tenderises the beef so that it cooks very fast. What fascinates me is how similar it is to dishes I had in Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China, where Shan’s family live and where the middle eastern influences spill over into the local cuisine and the use of cumin is prevalent. How the world turns full circle…
I made this for dinner today with lovely fillet steak from James Whelan Butchers at Avoca, Monkstown and Irish pak choi and spring onions from Superquinn in Blackrock, Co. Dublin.
Chilli Steak with Just-cooked Greens
Cold Comfort


  • 400 g fillet steak cut against the grain into slices about 1 cm thick
  • Olive oil (or groundnut or rapeseed oil) for cooking
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Small red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • Juice of an orange
  • Juice of a lime
  • 1 tsp of sherry (or brown rice) vinegar
  • 2 heads Irish pak choi
  • 8 Irish spring onions
  • Groundnut oil for frying

Irish Pak Choi


  1. Bash the cloves of garlic in a pestle and mortar with the chilli, salt and cumin seeds.
  2. Warm around 70 ml oil in a pan and pour over the garlic chilli mix.
  3. Whisk in the orange and lime juice and the vinegar.
  4. Marinade the steak in the sour chilli sauce for a couple of hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
  5. Chop the spring onions in two, after topping and tailing.
  6. Roughly chop the pak choi.


  1. Heat a small amount of oil in a wok over a high heat.
  2. Drain any excess marinade from the steak and reserve.
  3. Fry the steak for a few minutes until just cooked to taste.
  4. At the last minute throw in the greens and cook until the leaves are wilted but the onions are still crunchy, adding back a little of the marinade at this stage if you wish and heating to boiling point.
  5. Serve with rice.

6 thoughts on “Notes from a Past Life – Chilli steak with just-cooked greens”

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, Julie. It must be lovely to be able to take your time and enjoy your cooking, traveling and other interests now! Isn’t it amazing how a cutout from a newspaper can bring us back in time to memories of a life lived differently? I will definitely try this at the weekend. Looking forward to the Mango and Goat’s Cheese starter and the dessert too.

  2. Thanks Majella. Isn’t it amazing the way life goes full circle. Who’d have thought that old recipe would have so much resonance nearly 9 years later. I’ve found a treasure trove of newspaper cutouts, each one a memory. Will post the starter and dessert tomorrow.

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