January 11, 2015
My Mom's Chinese Beef & Greens
My mother used to make a version of this quite regularly, served over brown rice as was the custom of our household. I don't know where she got the original recipe, or what modifications she might have made to it. As both her knowledge of and exposure to Asian cooking of any kind was severely limited during the time we kids were growing up, and the availability of such ingredients in our small town was quite restricted, her version did not contain either sambal, fermented black beans, or even fresh ginger, and it was thickened with flour rather than cornstarch or tapioca flour (my version still is). It still tasted wonderful, and was a family favourite.
As I began to make the dish for myself as an adult, I gradually added the black beans, sesame oil, and exchanged some of the ground ginger for freshly grated ginger root. Plain button mushrooms were switched for shiitake, straw, or shimeji/beech mushrooms (although I'll still use buttons if that's what is available to me).
Normally there's about twice the amount of bok choi that you can see in the picture - it turns out that I had less on hand than I realized when I went to make the dish. It was still excellent, but had slightly less greens than usual. The baby corn is the most recent addition to recipe, and it's an absolute keeper. This recipe continues to be requested on a regular basis in our household.
Mom’s Chinese Beef & Greens
Serves 4-6 (over rice)
500 grams extra lean ground beef
1 large onion, halved and sliced, pole-to-pole
3-5 cloves of garlic, sliced or pressed
200 grams mushrooms, sliced or quartered if necessary
1 large head of bok choi, washed & sliced or 4 heads of mini bok choi
1-2 carrots, peeled & sliced into coins
200 grams fresh baby corn, sliced once each horizontally and vertically (optional)
1 thumbs-length of fresh gingerroot, sliced, minced, or grated
1/2 teaspoon dried, ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (preferably a less sodium type)
1 tablespoon black bean sauce or Chinese fermented black beans, rinsed and mashed
1 teaspoon sambal oelek or other chile paste or chile oil
1 cup stock – beef, chicken, bouillon cube – whatever you’ve got
1 large tablespoon of flour
1/2 cup of cold water
1/2 teaspoon toasted pure sesame oil
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or cast-iron pan, over high heat, brown the beef until any liquid has boiled off and the meat is frying gently. If you are not using extra lean ground beef, you may wish to drain any excess fat.
Add the chopped onions, garlic, ginger root, baby corn, and carrots, and stir well until the onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms, white pepper, ground ginger, black beans (or black bean sauce) sambal oelek and soy sauce. Stir well. Add a smidge of water if it’s starting to stick on the bottom, and/or lower the heat a little.
Let the mixture fry a little until the mushrooms start to get tender, and then add the stock or broth. Stir well, scraping the bottom of the pan so that nothing burns on. Bring to a gentle boil. Mix the cold water and flour together with a whisk, or shake together in a plastic lidded container until smooth. Pour into the meat mixture, stirring constantly, and bring back to a boil to thicken the gravy. If it gets too thick, you may need to add a little more water or stock. Reduce the heat and let simmer until the vegetables are tender.
Taste the gravy and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Slice the bok choi is sliced into large, bite-sized pieces (they will shrink a bit as they cook). Pile the bok choi on top of the meat mixture – don’t stir it in – and cover with a lid. Cook over medium-low heat for about five minutes, or until the greens wilt and decrease in volume. Then, stir carefully into the beef mixture underneath. Add sesame oil and stir through.
Taste to adjust seasoning, then serve over rice. My family liked to add a final drizzle of soy sauce at the table.
If you have leftovers, they can easily be reheated in the microwave or the stovetop, but my mother's usual approach was to combine the rice and beef mixture thoroughly, and then reheat it in the oven, covered, in a casserole dish (with maybe a tiny sprinkle of extra water to keep it from drying out. We liked it just as much on the second day as the first, even though we referred to it as "horse mash" because my sister thought the combined dish looked much like the cooked porridge that was fed to horses recovering from strangles (equine distemper), in the stables where she worked.