This Broccoli’s Made For Wokin’.
“I wouldn’t mind picking up a wok while we’re here.”
I glanced at Mei, my dad’s wife, who happens to be Chinese and is also an amazing cook. I tried to gauge her reaction to my news, but her face was blank. The woman is intensely nice, but she’s got a poker face that would make Clint Eastwood squirm during a friendly backyard game. Stabbing a dumpling with my chopstick, it disintegrated on its way to my mouth, its delicious steamed shrimp and cabbage innards scattering across my plate. “You know–” I added matter-of-factly while haphazardly trying to pinch pieces of filling between my sticks with all the grace of Edward Scissor Hands attempting to give a back rub, “so I can learn to stir fry.”
We were dining at Triple Crown, a dim sum favorite in Chicago’s Chinatown where my sister and I toured with Chicago Food Planet last summer. Justin and my dad were about to go bond over a Cubs game, and my sister and I were trying to figure out what to do with Mei. I figured since I had an authentic Chinese cook at my disposal and all, maybe I could use her knowledge as my in for some solid shopping deals.
You know I have a weakness for cooking utensils.
Unfortunately when we left the restaurant, the sky appeared as though it were about to let loose with more rain than I cried when I learned Sarah Palin might be running for President in 2016, so we sent the boys off on the train and decided to make a break for the suburbs.
This was not the end of the Great Wok Saga of 2014, however. Apparently I’d planted an earnest little seed in Mei’s mind, and what followed was a series of intense wok-related conversations with her and emails from my dad discussing the merits of rounded versus flat-bottomed woks, stainless steel versus cast iron, long-handled versus short, and a slurry of helpful videos and documentation on the proper care and cleaning of a wok I didn’t yet own. I needn’t have worried, though, because a shiny new flat-bottomed stainless steel wok with one long handle and one short handle was on its way to my doorstep, a generous WokShop gift from my dad and Mei and crazy intimidating now that I realized —
A wok isn’t just a wok. Apparently it’s a way of life.
When it arrived, my new baby wok was all drab and gray — unloved, unused, and way too industrial. Plus it left a silver metallic residue on my fingers.
So I followed the seasoning instructions in this video:
And ended up with this shiny bronzed beauty:
The first time I used it, I attempted to make drunken noodles with a random recipe I found online, and it turns out I was a little liberal with the tri-colored peppercorns — so much so that Justin and I were fighting back tears at the dinner table. So the second time, I turned to my tried-and-true favorite cookbook of all time.
The Best Recipes in the World, (TBRW) by Mark Bittman, is by no means pretty. It’s the color of mustard, a solid 3 inches thick, and doesn’t have any pictures — just a handful of hand-drawn sketches to illustrate techniques. But it’s by far the most informative cookbook I’ve ever owned, intuitively laid-out, and the recipes themselves are gorgeous in their simplicity. Plus, it’s packed full of popular recipes from around the world.
Perusing its pages is how I travel when I can’t travel.
We happened to have some broccoli and sugar snap peas turning brown in the fridge and Justin was away at kickball, so I figured a good ol’ veggie stir fry would be a great way to use ’em up. I flipped to “stir-fries” in TBRW’s massive index and landed on “Stir Fried Vegetables with Nam Pla.” I had no clue what nam pla was, but upon flipping to the page after the recipe, I read Bittman’s informative little sub-section on this ingredient and learned it’s simple Thai fish sauce, which I happened to already have in the fridge.
I only used the veggies I had on hand, but you could really throw anything into this. Bittman calls for carrots, broccoli, snow peas, onion, and dried chiles. I used broccoli, sugar snap peas, onion, and dried red pepper flakes because I’d already had a glass of wine and didn’t want to drive to the store.
The point is, this is versatile.
Stir-Fried Vegetables with Nam Pla
To make this the way I did, you will need:
- Neutral oil for frying (I used canola)
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- 2 cups sugar snap peas
- 1 medium/large onion, thinly sliced (another excuse to use one of these)
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 Tablespoon fresh minced garlic
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons nam pla (aka. “fish sauce”)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1) Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in your seasoned wok on a pretty high flame.
(My wok needs to be re-seasoned.)
2) After about a minute, add the broccoli. And if you happen to have a loved one who supports your inherent need to hoard cooking utensils (thanks, dad!), use your special wok chuan to stir ’em around.
See how my broccoli was starting to turn brown? Now. I would never tell you to use bad vegetables when you’re cooking, but I try not to be wasteful. Stir fries are a great way to use up vegetables that are starting to look a little worse for wear. And this broccoli?
This broccoli’s made for wokin’.
3) Cook the broccoli for about a minute, then add the peas. (Bittman would have us cook these separately, which I’m sure is brilliant for some reason or another, but hey — ain’t nobody got time for that.)
Continue to cook and stir for about 5 minutes until crisp-tender. (A good indicator is them turning a super bright green color.) Then remove these veggies from the pan.
4) Add a bit more oil to the empty wok and toss in your onion. Cook and stir for 3-5 minutes until they turn golden brown.
5) Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir for another minute.
6) Add 1/4 cup of water, 2 tablespoons of nam pla, and season with the pepper.
7) Finally, add the other cooked veggies back to the wok and heat through.
In all, I’d say this took about 15 minutes to make. Twenty, max.
And I didn’t think it was going to be very good. In fact, I had some leftover pasta heating in the microwave, figuring I’d stick this in the fridge for lunch over rice the next day.
But then I took a bite.
I’m not sure why, (um, hello, it’s fried) but this was so hit-the-spot tasty that I just filled a bowl and ate it as-is.
This is a really great starter recipe for wokin’, and now I’m anxious to try more.
Care to share your favorite wok recipes with me? Do you have a wok? If not, do you want one now?