I tend to make some Chinese dish at least once a week for a week day meal—this comes from having spent several years in Asia. Wife Jan really likes mapo doufu and it makes frequent appearances on these nights. However, mapo dofu has little in the way of green vegetable matter—beyond some green onion—so I tend to make a vegetable stir fry as a second dish.
Note: Many vegetarians might ask, “Why add pork to a vegetable dish?” Sorry, but it is something I picked up in China—adding pork to your dishes is a sign of prosperity, luck, and wealth. Feel free to make this dish vegetarian by leaving out the pork.
One vegetable that we learned to like when we lived in China was Chinese chive stem. This is the flower stem of Chinese chives (garlic chives), picked just before the flower opens. The flowers are edible—but chewy—so you can leave them on or trim them off as you prefer. Make sure the chive stems are firm and fresh, not dried out and wilted. Chive stem have a diamond-shaped cross section, so they are easy to identify by looking at the base of the stems.
The stir fry sauce below is simply today’s take on a Chinese sauce. There are several base sauces that you can buy at any Asian store—black bean (Douchi), black pepper, chili bean (Toban djan), chili garlic, hoisin, oyster, Sichuan spicy noodle, sweet bean (Tianmianjiang), and vegetarian mushroom sauces, etc. Most sauces used in stir fries may also contain one or more of these ingredients—black vinegar, chili oil, light and/or dark soy sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing, and fresh garlic and/or fresh ginger. While you may simply use just one of these sauces strait from the bottle in your stir fry, it is far more common to combine them to make a unique blended sauce that pleases your personal tastes.
A Note on Using Bottled Sauces: Chinese cuisine has some very complex sauces with—sometimes—some very arcane/hard to get ingredients. For the average cook, or for a quick weekday meal, bottled sauces are fine—most of the Chinese restaurants you go to are using them for their own dishes. If you have the time, patience, and money, you can build your own sauces from scratch. However, if you are not cooking Chinese food every day, your pantry will soon fill up with partial bottles of things like preserved vegetables and fermented tofu. The down side of commercial bottled sauces is that even the base ingredients may only be available in processed bottled form (like ground soybean sauce/paste). The serious disadvantage of the bottled sauces is extra sugar and salt that the companies add as preservatives that really does not really need to be there.
Sichuan pickles are preserved stem of the mustard plant and may be bought either plain or spicy—covered in chili sauce. I prefer the spicy ones like I had in Chengdu. In American Chinese restaurants they will frequently be added to dry fried green beans. Actually, they are a good and spicy addition to any stir fry.
Karl’s Chinese Chive Stem and Sichuan Pickle Stir Fry
Stir fry sauce
¼ cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbs. light soy sauce
1 Tbs. dark soy sauce
1 Tbs. shaoxing rice wine
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
¼ lb. coarse ground pork
8 oz. Chinese chive stem
8 green onions
2 Tbs. peanut oil, separate uses
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag (3.5 oz,) Sichuan pickle
1. Put all of the sauce ingredients into a small bowl or cup and mix them together.
Tip: If you do not want chunks of ginger in your meat, hold the shredded ginger back until you have added some of the sauce to the meat in the next step.
2. Put the ground pork into a mixing bowl and mix in one tablespoon of the sauce into the meat.
Tip: Cover the bowl and let it marinate for 15-30 minutes.
Note: Reserve the rest of the sauce for the end of the cooking time.
3. Rinse off the chive stems and trim off the wilted cut end at the base of the stems.
Tip: A quarter inch is quite enough.
Note: The unopened flower heads at the top of the stems is very chewy and I usually trim them off as well.
4. Cut the stems into 1½ inch pieces and set them aside.
Tip: The pieces of stem from the bottom are about ⅜ of an inch thick while the pieces from the top can be very thin. While you are cutting up the stems it is useful to separate the thick and thin pieces into two bowls.
Note: While you may simply dump all of the chive stem into the pan at the same time, the delicate top pieces will overcook, while the base pieces are still crunchy and raw.
5. Trim and cut the green onions into 1½ inch pieces.
Tip: If you are using the whole green onions, separate the thick white parts and leafy greens to cook at different times.
Note: I actually used my green, green onion parts in my mapo doufu.
6. Form the ground pork into a single large patty.
7. Add one tablespoon of oil to a large sauté pan and fry the pork, over medium high heat, until it is well browned on both sides.
Tip: This is a America’s Test Kitchen trick to get the flavor of the Maillard reaction without turning all of your meat into dried out little rocks.
8. Transfer the pork patty to a plate to cool.
Tip: When the meat is cool enough to handle break it into small bits.
9. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water and, over a medium high heat, warm the remaining oil.
10. Stir fry the thick pieces of the vegetables until they are starting to soften, about 4-5 minutes.
11. Add the thin pieces of garlic stem to the pan and continue stir frying for another 2-3 minutes.
12. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center of the pan until fragrant, about one minute.
13. Return the pork to the pan and add the sauce, the remaining green onions, and the Sichuan pickle to the pan.
14. Continue cooking until the pork and pickles are warm and the sauce has started to thicken, about another 2-3 minutes.
15. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot over steamed rice.