"send the rice down"


When I got home from Moscow, I found myself craving spicy food. The weather in Munich felt tropical compared to the Russian capital, and yet this craving for chilies did not wane. 

Specifically I wanted Chinese food. I guess I was missing Toronto's several China Towns that spoiled me with steamed fish made Cantonese style, mapo tofu, and Chinese pancakes.

Although I never made it to a Chinese restaurant in Moscow (I was too busy trying pre-revolution Russian cuisine and drinking tea), I got the feeling that Moscow must have good Chinese food.

Upon my return I bought Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice, which celebrates simple Chinese home cooking. It is a charming and approachable book that I plan to spend a lot of time with this winter. The first recipe I made was Sichuanese "Send-the-rice-down" Chopped Celery with Minced Beef, which has already been lovingly praised over on the Wednesday Chef.

I've made it twice in the past week and, if I wasn't sick and far too lazy to dress myself let alone walk over to the butcher shop, I'd be tempted to make this for dinner tonight. Both times I've served it with black rice, which adds a little extra drama to the plate, but of course brown or white rice would be fine.

If you like, you can add a splash of light soy sauce to taste. I skipped this as I thought the flavour of the dish was so perfect, so complete, that it didn't need anything else.

 Chopping the celery is the only part of this recipe that requires a bit of time. Other than that, this meal is weeknight eating at its best. I had to make two new additions to my pantry: Sichuan chili bean paste and Chinkiang vinegar. But I have a whole book to cook my way through and a whole winter to spice up, so they'll surely be put to frequent use.

Fuchsia writes that this dish is typical of Sichuanese home cooking because it has a strong flavour and is a perfect companion to a bowl of rice, hence "sending the rice down". 


 Sichuanese  "Send-the-rice-down" Chopped Celery with Minced Beef 

adapted from 'Every Grain of Rice' by Fuchsia Dunlop

serves 2 as a main

300g celery
3 tbsp cooking oil, such as peanut
100g minced beef
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuan chili bean paste
1 1/2 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tsp Chinkiang vinegar 

Cut each celery stick lengthways and then chop into thin strips. You want the celery to be finely chopped.

While you prepare the celery, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, add the celery and blanch it for about 30 seconds and then drain immediately. You don't want to cook the celery, you just want to take away its rawness.

In a wok or frying pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the minced beef and with a wooden spoon or wok scoop or ladle, break up the strands. Stir-fry the meat until it is fragrant and cooked. Then add the chili bean paste. Continue to give it a good stir until the oil has reddened and the bean paste is fragrant. Then add the minced ginger and fry it for a few moments until it is fragrant. 

Finally add the celery and let the whole dish cook until the celery is piping hot. Add a little soy sauce now, if you wish. Stir in the Chinkiang vinegar and serve right away with rice. 

Guten!

* * * * *

In other news, last week a text that I had written about my grandfather was published in the Globe and Mail's Lives Lived section. It is a real honour to share his life in Canada's national newspaper and if you are interested in reading it, you can find it here.  

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