Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Szechuan Stir-Fry from Quick & Easy Paleo Comfort Foods

I bought a copy of Quick & Easy Paleo Comfort Foods from Julie and Charles Mayfield a few months ago and hadn't gotten around to cooking from it until recently.  This book is full of recipes that give you the taste of comfort food but in less time.  Most of the recipes have a stated total cooking time of around 30 minutes.  My first stop in this book was the Szechuan Stir-Fry.

I gathered my ingredients and got to work.

A new ingredient to me were the Szechuan peppercorns.  Before using them in the dish, you have to toast them and grind them.  

I ground mine in a coffee grinder that I no longer use for coffee.  If you don't have a coffee grinder around, you could use a mortar & pestle or say the bottom of a heavy glass or mug on a cutting board to grind down the peppercorns.  

Once I'd prepared the peppercorns, I turned to slicing and mincing up the vegetables and beef.  

As I finished up my ingredient cutting, I heated some toasted sesame oil in my 12" saute pan.  As with most stir fry dishes, you really need to have everything measured and ready to add to the pan.  This dish cooks quickly once you get the beef browned.  

Once the pan was hot, I added the beef and some of the seasonings per the recipe instructions.  

And then, I added the remaining ingredients.  

I plated the dish with some cauliflower mash.  Why not cauliflower rice?  I didn't have any made.    

Accessibility & Cost of Ingredients:  There are only two ingredients you might have trouble finding.  The 4 ounce jar of Szechuan Peppercorns were $3.99 at Penzey's.  I couldn't find them anywhere else in town.  The recipe does say you can substitute more hot chili paste for the peppercorns if you can't find them.  I got my toasted sesame oil at Sprouts for $4.79 / 8.45 ounces.

Hot chili paste was more challenging for me to find than I expected.   I went to Sprouts and Whole Foods and couldn't find it.  I went to my "big box" store and headed to the international isle.  My big box actually has a pretty large Asian grocery selection.  I didn't see any chili paste, just sauces.  I then went to the Italian section and none was to be found.  Where did I find it?  On the tomato aisle next to tomato paste.  I posted on the blog's facebook page to see if I was just off for not thinking this was a logical place for it and most everyone said they would look on the international aisle first.  The elusive chili paste was $3.98 for a tube.  

Preparation & Cooking Time:  The stated "hands on time" is 5-10 minutes and total time 20 minutes. It took me 26 minutes from start to finish to prepare and cook this recipe.  

Clean Up:  I have a brush that I use to clean out my coffee/spice grinder.  Everything except my saute pan went into the dishwasher. 

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs sideways!  The recipe works from a process stand point and its a pretty light dish despite being beef.  The flavors are direct and simple:  pepper and ginger.  The recipe does say to omit the peppercorns if you don't like things hot and spicy.  I don't mind the heat but I might just exclude them next time to see if I can taste more of the ingredients.  I served mine with cauliflower mash which made the dish a bit more filling and cut the heat.

There was an astringent after taste to this dish that I'd rather not have.  I'm not sure if the pepper corns, chili paste, or ginger, so It will take a few attempts to see what to adjust.  I think with some adjustment, this could be a solid thumbs up.  Of course, my taste buds could just be off.

Keeping with the theme of the book, it was fairly quick and easy to prepare.  I said it before, but make sure you have everything chopped and measured before you start.  The next time I make this I'm actually going to mix up the ingredients that are added at the same time so they are more evenly incorporated.  

If you are craving Chinese food and by Chinese food I mean the gooey sweet Americanized Chinese food, this is not your dish.  There is nothing sweet about it.  I'm not above craving Chinese food, but most "paleo" versions of such dishes have as much as 1/2 cup of name your natural sweetener, i.e.,  sugar just not called sugar, in them.  For me, that's a once or twice a year dessert treat, not dinner.  

Do any of you have any go to recipes to get your Chinese food fix?