A Tale of Two Stir-Fries I: beef & ginger: $1.35/serving

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of working late, it was the age of invasive holiday foolery, it was the epoch of unbelievable traffic on I-5, it was the epoch of trying to use up a seemingly bottomless supply of discount beef…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way, especially for plagiarizing a book that had absolutely nothing to do with food—in short, the period was probably much like your period, in whatever city, county or country you may reside. And to you I recommend a stir-fry.

I usually shy away from stir-fries, mostly because they seem so skull-numbingly boring and unimaginative. Some undercooked bell peppers, onions, dried-out strips of meat, maybe some snow peas… huh? what was that? Sorry, I must’ve fallen asleep.

But stir-fries are so damn easy. And with the holidays coming up, I’ve decided to just relent and throw a couple in the mix to give myself a break.

This particular Khmer-style stir-fry, however, adapted from “Hot Salty Sour Sweet,” is probably not one you’ve had before. It uses ginger as the main vegetable, which is a well known effective anti-inflammatory and immune-system booster. As it cooks, the ginger loses much of its bite and becomes surprisingly tender and mellow. A word of warning: Don’t bother to make this if you’re unable to find young, firm, fresh ginger. Old, woody and stringy ginger will stay that way even after it’s cooked.

How many this stir-fry serves will depend on what you serve it with. It’s perfectly delicious on its own, but a side dish of a rice, salad or noodles will expand and enhance it. (I served it with plain rice because that’s what we were limited to, so it served 2. But I would not necessarily recommend boring old plain rice if you can afford otherwise, because there’s not much sauce with this.)

• 8 oz. lean steak, sliced thinly against the grain: $1.50
• 3 T canola oil: 9 cents
• 8 oz. fresh young ginger: 75 cents
• 4 garlic cloves, minced: 12 cents
• 2 T fish sauce: 10 cents
• 2 tsp sugar: 3 cents
Optional: 1 cup dry rice, cooked with 2 cups water in a rice cooker: 10 cents
TOTAL: $2.69/2 = $1.35/serving

Peel the ginger, slice it thinly, and cut it into matchsticks. Be forewarned this is not a fun task.

I happened to have recently purchased two caches of ginger: one from the Asian market, as seen above, and one from the regular supermarket, which turned out to be a picture-perfect example of what kind of ginger NOT to use:

The skin is kind of wrinkly, the end parts are furry, and the interior is visibly woody with a purplish tint. I guess this is still OK for applications where it will be minced, but certainly not for this dish. Thanks, Fred Meyer!

Heat a wok or large cast-iron skillet (12 inches or larger) over medium-high heat. Add the oil. When heated, add the garlic, stir until fragrant, and add the beef, stirring so both sides get some color.

Add the fish sauce and sugar, then the ginger matchsticks, cooking for about 5 minutes until tender. They’ll turn kind of brownish from the fish sauce and cooking juices, which is a good thing. Serve alone or with a side dish.

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