Thursday, March 21, 2013

It Takes a Village (to Teach a Kid How to Make Stir-Fry)

When I was fifteen I started dating a boy whose father loved food and cooked often. Over at his house, I saw things I'd never seen in any kitchen: ginger root, basil plants, black bean sauce, and a large, cast-iron wok. I thought my household was unconventional, with my mother's refusal to stock the fridge with soda and her insistence on brown bread (while everybody else in Indiana ate white bread, I thought), but this was really different. I might have complained about my all-natural peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat, but my boyfriend complained about his honey and tahini sandwiches on pita, and I had never even heard of tahini.

I was impressed. Especially after I'd had a few meals over there: spicy sesame noodles, eggplant with peppers, and bright stir-fries that brought tears to my eyes.

I was altered for the better by being exposed to a wide variety of kitchens as a kid, from my southern grandmother's grits and gravy, to my suburban friends' jello salads, to my sophisticated boyfriend's ginger root and wok, so this week's cooking lesson, based on the basic stir-fry technique I learned as a teenager, is dedicated to those early outside influences, a reminder about the benefit of foisting your kids on other households as much as possible!

Kale and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-Fry
Serves 4

2 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil (both hold up well to high heat)
2 large bunches kale, washed, stems removed, leaves chopped
1 lb shiitake mushrooms, sliced, stems discarded

2 tablespoons, peeled and minced, ginger root
2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup water
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon spicy sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Before you start making the stir-fry, put up a pot of rice or noodles. I like a blend of white basmati rice and quinoa.

Prep everything: wash and chop vegetables and set aside; mince garlic and ginger and set aside separately; whisk together water, soy sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. You want everything ready and close at hand - once you begin it's all very fast and furious!

Heat wok over high heat - The wok is ready when a drop of water flung onto its surface evaporates immediately.

Add oil and heat for a few seconds before adding kale, a few big handfuls at a time while you STIR CONSTANTLY. If the kale begins to burn, reduce the heat a bit. Once all the kale is added, stir fry for 2 or 3 more minutes, until kale is almost tender. Add a few spoonfuls of water if it is sticking.

Add mushrooms and stir, stir, stir for 1 or 2 minutes, until mushrooms shrink and start to brown.

Push kale and mushrooms to the side of the wok (the sides are not as hot as the middle, so the cooking will slow down), and add garlic and ginger to the middle. Stir 1 minute, then stir everything together to combine.

Re-whisk the sauce for a second and then pour it down the side of the wok (don't pour it on the middle, it will cool the wok down, and might make your stir-fry turn out soggy, yuck.) and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes until sauce thickens and coats everything. 

Eat immediately, on top of rice or noodles.

It takes a ton of kale - kale really cooks down!

Have everything ready to go and close at hand.

Stir, stir, stir.