"Bell Pepper Beef"
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb ginger, minced
1/2 bell pepper, bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion, sliced
1 can bamboo shoots, drained
1 pound stir-fry beef strips
In a small bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients: 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon corn starch, and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Set aside.
Mince 2 cloves of garlic. Mince 1 thumb of ginger. Combine in a small bowl and set aside.
Cut half a bell pepper into bite-sized pieces. An easy way to do this is first cut it into strips, then cut the strips into thirds or quarters.
Slice half an onion and set it aside. This will break down into crescents when cooked.
Drain the can of bamboo shoots.
Cut the beef strips in half. With paper-thin stir-fry slices, it helps to separate them beforehand and pile them in a bowl.
Heat the wok. Add 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, minced garlic, and minced ginger. Stir-fry briefly.
Add the chopped bell pepper. Stir-fry until tender. This takes a substantial amount of time. Switch hands if your arms get tired.
When the bell peppers are tender, add the sliced onion. Stir-fry until the onions separate and become translucent.
Add the drained bamboo shoots and stir-fry until they warm up and become fragrant.
Add the beef strips. Stir-fry briefly until the beef browns.
Pour the sauce over the top of the beef and vegetables. At first it will pool in the bottom. Stir-fry until it turns glossy and thick.
Remove wok from heat. Serve bell pepper beef over rice or noodles.
I only used 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and did not add any more salt. This way, the soy sauce added some deep, savory notes to the dish but did not make everything taste like soy sauce. This allowed the flavors of the individual ingredients to shine through more. But it still has that nice Chinese smell.
I really like the rice vinegar. It adds a bright, high note when combined with the dark, savory ingredients to make the sauce much more complex and interesting.
We love the roasty, nutty flavor and smell of sesame oil. It works very well with dark, robust flavors.
Black pepper adds a little heat. If you like "pepper beef" type recipes, then you could add quite a lot more to make this a spicy dish. Green peppercorns would also work to pick up green notes from the bell pepper.
The sauce thickened up beautifully and had a wonderful, complex flavor. Previously I've had little success using cornstarch as a thickener, but something about the wok and/or Chinese ingredients makes it behave much better.
When you sauté roughly equal amounts of fresh garlic and ginger root together, they marry and mellow into something flavorful and complex, tempering the funkiness of the garlic and the sharpness of the ginger. This greatly adds to the complexity and excitement of the dish. It's one place where taking the extra time to prepare fresh ingredients makes a pretty dramatic difference in quality.
Bell pepper takes quite a long time to cook if you want it really soft. We were hungry so we didn't let it cook as long as would have been ideal. Next time I might cut it down a little smaller to help speed up the cooking time a bit.
Half-slices of onion in a wok break down into crescents pretty quickly. How long you cook these depends on how done you want them. Ours were closer to ideal than the bell pepper. Next time I will probably throw in a splash of mirin to help them caramelize and to balance the vinegar, and cook the onions a little longer.
At this stage, we had a really nice balance of ingredients. Half a bell pepper and half an onion work well together. I'm not a huge fan of peppers and onions, but they mellowed into something pleasing here. If you love peppers and onions as a topping for things, wokking them is a very good way to make a batch.
Adding the bamboo shoots threw off the balance a little bit, because it was roughly the same amount as either of the others, leaving even thirds -- but two of those thirds were pale and one was green. If you want to star the bell pepper in this recipe, you may want to use a whole one or omit the bamboo shoots.
Adding the meat threw the balance way off. We got a pound of beef sliced into paper-thin strips, because that's what was available, and it meant somewhat more meat than vegetables. A better approach, if available, would be taking two or three of our usual palm-size steaklets and cutting those into finger-size strips or bite-size chunks.
While the vegetables could've been a little more done, and the balance of vegetables and meat was imperfect, the overall dish came out well. The flavor was especially nice. You could really taste all the different ingredients. I think with a few tweaks, it will be even better.
There is a lot left over, so the current plan is to reheat that tomorrow as tortilla filling. The recipe as it stands could feed four people.