January 31, 2010

The simple pleasures: Beef with Thai basil

As we wrap up another month of frugality, I have to admit that this year was much easier than previous years. I didn't miss eating out all that much---it helps when your favorite restaurant is closed to move to a new location---and I only really craved a drink whenever I watched an episode of Mad Men...

With all of the cooking we did at home, we cycled through lots of the old favorites: hot pot, chicken poached in sake, tagine, pizza... and the thing I noticed most was how truly delicious the simplest dishes can be. Sure, it's nice to have an opportunity to eat a perfectly prepared sous-vide beef short rib with peanut and broccoli puree with a dehydrated gelatinized sheet of Guinness, but there's something special about the pleasure of simple, well executed dishes. No production, no esoteric flavor combinations, no unexpected twists. Just undeniably tasty food...

...like a 15-minute bowl of spaghetti, adorned only by brightly flavored San Marzano tomatoes and a bit of garlic, basil and chili flakes. Maybe a rich, warm soup with good crusty bread on a cold winter evening. Or hamachi kama, always a favorite, dressed only with a touch of salt and oil before being broiled for 10 minutes to crispy goodness in our toaster oven.

A good stir fry is also always a winner: quick, simple and satisfying. For me, stir frying is all about knowing the different temperature zones of your wok so you can be sure to get the best caramelization and flavor you need to make the dish sparkle.

We had some really nice Thai basil on hand, with a bit of good quality, thinly sliced beef, so I threw together this quick dish for lunch. The Thai basil is the star here, its sweet, enchanting aroma and flavor enveloping the tender, seared beef.

Stir-Fried Beef with Thai Basil

1/2 lb beef top round steak
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 green onions, cut into thin strips
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 bunch Thai basil
1 teaspoon chili sauce or chili oil (optional)

Cut the beef thinly against the grain. In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and corn starch. Add the beef and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Drain.

Heat wok over high heat. Add the oil and heat until smoking. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 10 seconds. Add the beef and cook until caramelized, about 2-3 minutes (depending on the heat of your wok). Remove beef and set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of oil in your wok.

Bringing wok back up to high heat and stir fry yellow onion (with a pinch of salt) until softened, approximately 2 minutes. Add red pepper and cook for an additional minute. Add the beef and green onions and stir fry for 60 seconds. Add Thai basil leaves and chili sauce/oil, toss well, and turn off heat.

Serve with steamed rice.

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