It’s the first day of autumn and, despite the fact that the weather has warmed up a little after last week’s torrential rain, I’ve begun to yearn for spicier food that will warm me up on the inside when I get in at the end of a long day and that I can prepare and get to the table within 30 minutes of arriving home.
It’s not the only thing I yearn for. At the end of this month Shane, Shan and Dermot will pay us a visit from Beijing. Dermot is nearly 19 months old now and a bundle of fun. On FaceTime at weekends he plays games with us as if he wants to show off his latest Chinese words and even the ones he knows in English like “toe toe” for his Daddy’s toes. He joins in the conversation, reminding us in his inimitable way that he is in on the act too and has things to say, offering smoochy kisses to us on the iPad screen and trying to share his grapes and his Lego across two continents. It will be fun to build Lego robots with him and reciprocate those kisses. It will be a joy to give him a hug, if I can catch up with him that is.
When I’m not visualising the outings I will have with Dermot when he is home, the places I will bring him, the friends I will introduce him to, I am thinking about what I will cook for my little Gao/O’Neill family when they are here in Ireland. There will be Irish food of course, maybe even some Italian recipes, and barbecues cooked on the Big Green Egg but I also want to try out on them some of the Chinese-style recipes that I’ve been experimenting with to see what Shan thinks of my efforts.
The recipe below is one of that I have been working on for awhile. I havve been trying to integrate what I’m learning from my Chinese teacher Wei Wei with the way I cook at home and to produce a healthy variation of the kind of Chinese takeaway you might get in Ireland. I got the inspiration for this recipe from a Chinese Beef recipe in The Fasting Day Cookbook but I have adapted it to bring it closer to the methods of Chinese cooking. I have avoided marinating the beef in a mix of sauces, which tends to lead to the beef being more stewed than stir-fried, but I have added in similar flavours at the end of cooking – the aromatic richness of yellow bean sauce mixed with soy sauces and just enough black vinegar to bring out the flavour.
For the black bean sauce I used Laoganma chilli black bean sauce. My teacher Wei Wei tells me that this one sauce has saved from starvation many a Chinese student overseas who doesn’t know how to cook but for whom a dollop of Laoganma evokes the taste of home. You can pick up a jar in the Asia Market or any Asian supermarket but feel free to susbstitute your own favourite chilli black bean sauce.
For me it is the yellow bean sauce that brings me back in time – to my early attempts at Chinese cooking in a bed-sit in Rathmines when a jar of Sharwood’s yellow bean sauce could transform a common-place meal into what seemed to me then to be an exotic oriental feast. That, of course, was more than 30 years before I realised that China was set to become an important part of my life. Sharwood’s don’t seem to do a yellow bean sauce these days but you can pick up a tin of Amoy crushed yellow bean sauce in any Asian market. While you are there you will also find Chinese black vinegars, such as Gold Plum Chinkiang Vinegar, and Shaoxing Rice Wine – I use the cooking rice wine with the red label but I don’t know the brand name.
This is a relatively low fat, low calorie recipe. It is packed with nutrients from brightly coloured vegetables and the amount of oil used in cooking is modest. Feel free to experiment – it will work well with chicken instead of beef for instance – and add your own favourite vegetables It has a kick from the Laoganma and extra chilli but it is not very spicy. Enjoy,
Chilli Beef in Black and Yellow Bean Sauce
Serves 2 -3 as a main dish or 4 as part of a multi-course meal
- 350 – 400g of sirloin or bavette of beef
- 1 red chilli
- 1 thumb root ginger
- 1 small head of broccoli
- 1 red pepper
- 1 yellow pepper
- 2 heads of pak choi
- 4 spring onions
- 2 tbs Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 heaped teaspoon cornflour
- 2 tbs Laoganma chilli black bean sauce
- 2 tbs yellow bean sauce
- 1 tbs light soy sauce
- ½ tbs dark soy sauce
- ½ tbs dark Chinese vinegar (or Chinkiang vinegar)
- Cooking oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Slice the beef against the grain into thin slices about 5 cm long.
- Marinade the beef in about 2 tbs of Shaoxing rice wine, adding a heaped teaspoon of cornflour and stirring well. Set aside while you prepare the vegetables.
- Break the broccoli into florets and blanche or steam for one minute to soften without losing their bright colour.
- Thinly slice the chilli, discarding the seeds. Peel and finely chop the ginger.
- De-seed the peppers and cut them into diamond shapes about the size of a large postage stamp.
- Cut the root off the pak choi, cut the stems into chunks the same size of the peppers and shred the leaves.
- Thinly slice the spring onions at steep angles.
- Mix the yellow bean sauce, soy sauces and dark Chinese vinegar.
- Heat a small amount of oil in a wok over a high heat. Add in the chilli and ginger and stir-fry briefly until the aromas are released.
- Add in the Laoganma sauce, including the oil from the sauce. Once hot, add in the beef, little by little, and stir-fry briskly until it has changed colour, then remove it from the wok and set to one side.
- Wipe out the wok with kitchen paper and heat about 1 to 2 tbs oil over a high heat. Stir-fry the spring onions for a few moments to release their aroma. Add in the peppers and pak choi stems and stir-fry for a few minutes until softened.
- Then add in the broccoli and pak choi leaves. Stir-fry for a minute or two until the pak choi has wilted adding a splash of hot water if necessary to help the vegetables cook.
- Add in the mixture of yellow bean, soy sauce and black vinegar and stir to mix well.
- Return the beef to the wok with any remaining marinade and mix well until heated through.
- Remove from the heat, drizzle over a teaspoon of sesame oil and serve immediately with boiled rice.