Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Beef-Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, p. 67.

My resolve to go meatless during the week crashed into this recipe like tank into a brick wall. Oh, this recipe hit the spot. The crunch of the lettuce, the sweet and sour of the black vinegar-soy sauce, and the zing of the garlic-ginger-sesame oil notes combined beautifully. It’s a great recipe to throw together at the last moment for yourself. All you have to do is figure out your preferred ratio of lettuce to meat sauce. I urge you to consider 1/4 pound of the ground meat (half the amount that Alford and Duguid call for) with a bowlful of lettuce and the full proportion of sauce ingredients. You’ll find your own balance.

This book just gets better and better.

Here is the complete unadjusted recipe with my suggested adjustments…

Serves 4

About 4 packed cups coarsely torn romaine lettuce

Shadowcook: I used a combination of lettuces. As the authors note, “If you use romaine lettuce, the salad will have good crunch as well as some wilted softer leaves when you first serve it. We love the contrast. If you prefer a softer texture, either let the salad stand for 5 minutes before serving it, to give the greens more time to soften in the warm dressing, or use leaf lettuced instead of romaine.” Or, like I said, use a combination and get it to the table while it’s still very warm.

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 pound (1 packed cup) ground beef

Shadowcook: I used 1/3 pound ground pork. Next time I’ll use a little less. And I’ll have to try it with beef, but I have a feeling I’m going to prefer the pork.

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste

1 tablespoon Jinjiang (black rice) vinegar, or to taste

Shadowcook: You can find this at any Asian market.

1/2 cup warm water

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

 

Place the lettuce in a wide salad bowl or serving dish and set aside.

Place a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds, then add the ginger. Stir-fry over medium-high to medium heat until slightly softened and starting to turn color. Add the meat and use your spatula to break it up so there are no lumps at all, then add the salt and stir-fry until most of the meat has changed color. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and stir to blend. Add the warm water and stir.

(The dressing can be prepared ahead to this point and set aside for up to 20 minutes. When you are ready to proceed, bring to a boil.)

While the dressing mixture is coming to a boil, place the cornstarch in a small cup or bowl and stir in the cold water to make a smooth paste. Once the liquid is bubbling in the pan, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir, add to the pan, and stir for about 1 minutes: the liquid will thicken and become smoother. Taste for salt, and add a little salt or soy sauce if you wish. Add the sesame oil and stir once, then pour onto the lettuce. Immediately toss the salad to expose all the greens to the hot dressing. Serve immediately.

 

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Napa and Red Onion Salad

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travel in the Other China, p. 86.

I have owned this fabulous cookbook less than a week and already several pages, including this one, is bespattered and wrinkled.  As I went through the book page by page in the bookstore, I stopped counting when I reached the tenth recipe I knew I would make if I owned it. That’s my minimum. (On the same visit to the bookstore, I had the same experience with David Chang’s Momofuku, but that’s another post.) The day I brought the book home I made two salads, this Mongolian one and the Cucumbers in Black Rice Vinegar from Xinjiang (I have NO idea where that is). I have the summer ahead of me to delve more deeply. In the meantime, this is a salad that will suit the summer heat.

I learned one great trick from this recipe:

  • Pouring boiling water over the shredded cabbage in a bowl, waiting a minute or two, and then draining it keeps the color of the cabbage bright and the leaves still a little crunchy.

The recipe needs practically no emending:

1 small or 1/2 medium-large red onion (1/4 pound)

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

2 cups shredded Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise into thin slivers

2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil, or to taste

Shadowcook: Frankly, since most of us chop up a whole head of cabbage, I’d make it 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon rice vinegar, or to taste

About 1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves.

Slice the onion lengthwise into quarters, then very thinly slice each quarter lengthwise. You should have about 1 cup. place in a sieve, add 1 teaspoon of the salt, and toss well. Set over a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes to drain.

Meanwhile, place the cabbage in a bowl and pour over boiling water to cover (about 4 cups). Let stand for a minute or two, then drain in a colander. Place back in the bowl and set aside.

Rinse the onion with cold water, then squeeze dry and add to the cabbage. Set aside.

Heat the 2 teaspoons sesame oil in a small wok for small skillet over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add the vinegar, and once it bubbles, pour the mixture over the salad. Toss to blend, then add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and toss again. The salad can be served immediately or left to stand for up to an hour so flavors can blend.

Just before serving, taste and add a little more sesame oil if you want to bring that flavor forward, as well as more salt if you wish. Add the coriander leaves and toss.

 

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Smoky Lime Dressing

It will comes as news to most people that the grain called quinoa is 100% protein. At least, that’s what Weight Watchers claims. Now that I’ve finally got the hang of making dry, fluffy quinoa, thanks to a friend who makes it all the time, I’m making it more often than before. The trick, I learned, is NOT to rinse it (contra WW) and to use an amount of water just under double the amount of quinoa. This recipe — the source of which I have lost but it’s from either the New York Times or the Guardian — falls into the category of Grub for its heft and into that of Salad for its forgiving caloric nature. The dressing is what really makes it.

I’ve adapted the recipe for two people on a Weight Watchers diet. It’s still really good.

Serves 4

Calories per serving: 150

Weight Watchers points per serving: 3

1 cup uncooked quinoa

4 green onions, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained [OR, preferably, Rancho Gordo’s black beans, cooked]

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

1 small garlic, finely chopped

Place the quinoa and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.

Shadowcook: I started with 1 3/4 cups water and kept an eye on it.

Lower heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Stir in the green onions, black beans, and cilantro. Puree the remaining ingredients together in a food processor; pour over quinoa and stir to coat with dressing.

Shadowcook: Chop the green onions in chunks. The crunch makes the salad even more satisfying.

Shadowcook: I wouldn’t pour the entire amount of dressing. Try half of it and then taste. Add more if the flavor doesn’t stand out. You don’t want it to get soggy.

Adjust seasoning with salt and additional lime juice if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Shadowcook: I’ve thrown in a chopped hard-boiled egg and some blanched, chopped spinach. What else? Nuts?