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Dec 19, 2014
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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By the Book: Naomi Duguid’s Smoky Napa Stir-Fry

June 25th 01:06pm, 2013

 

This time of year, spending hours over a hot stove is about as appealing as layering on a knit sweater. Luckily, with so much fresh produce at my fingertips at the farmers market each week, I enjoy tons of fresh salads, quick pickles and fresh fruit from breakfast to dinner. But sometimes, a raw kale salad doused in lemon, good oil and a little cheese just won’t cut it. I crave something warm, salty and packed with flavor – something that will satisfy without weighing me down.

When I opened Naomi Duguid’s gorgeous book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor, I found a bevy of dishes that do just that. Eggplant stewed in a tomato and anchovy curry. Okra dancing in a piping hot pan with chiles and shallots. Chopped cabbage doused in peanut oil, chiles and bright-orange turmeric. All of these recipes are quick and easy, making them great for fast summertime fare. They do, however, call for some unique ingredients (dried anchovies, green cayenne chiles, galangal), which certainly make the dishes a bit more difficult to source than the average weeknight meal. But it’s the last thing they have in common that should put these recipes at the top of your must-make list: umami. Whether it’s fish sauce or oyster sauce, that indescribable savory flavor is front and center in these dishes, especially Duguid’s recipe for Smoky Napa Stir-Fry.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: Let spices toast in some hot oil before adding a couple dried chiles and a shallot. When everything is softening, toss in some freshly chopped greens and, just as they begin to wilt, stir in a little oyster sauce and let it bubble away. I wish the instructions were slightly more detailed (Minced ginger means different things to different people, for instance.), but it’s hard to argue when there are a mere five minutes of active cooking time.

 

 

The final dish was fantastic, warm and salty with a subtle heat. But it was the umami that really got me. The oyster sauce combined with the salty greens and smoky peanut oil created a savoriness that wouldn’t let me put my fork down. The fact that it took 10 minutes to make? Well, that gives you plenty of time to go to the pool.

 

 

Smoky Napa Stir-Fry
4 Servings

Another light take on green vegetables. The oyster sauce, available in Asian grocery stores and well-stocked groceries, gives a smoky undernote to the dish. Try to find fresh, young Napa cabbage for extra crispness.

About ¾ lb. Napa cabbage
½ cup hot water
1 scant Tbsp. oyster sauce
2 Tbsp. peanut oil
1/8 tsp. turmeric
2 dried red chiles
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tsp. ginger, minced
¼ tsp. salt, or to taste

• Cut the cabbage crosswise into ¼-inch strips, then slice them crosswise to make bite-sized pieces (You should have 4 loosely packed cups.). Place in a bowl of cold water to wash thoroughly, then lift out, drain and set aside.
• Pour the hot water into a small bowl, add the oyster sauce and stir well. Set aside.
• Place a medium or large wok or large deep skillet over high heat. Add the oil, then lower the heat to medium-high and stir in the turmeric. Add the chiles, shallot and ginger and stir-fry about 30 seconds, until the shallot starts to soften.
• Raise the heat to high, add the chopped cabbage and salt, and stir-fry, tossing and pressing the greens against the hot sides of the pan. When they have wilted and softened, about 2 to 3 minutes, add the oyster sauce mixture. Bring to a boil, turn and stir for another 15 seconds or so to distribute flavors and finish cooking the greens, then turn out into a wide shallow bowl.
• Serve hot or at room temperature.

What’s your secret to infusing umami into your cooking? Tell us in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of Burma by Naomi Duguid. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Frances, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won her a copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day. Frances, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

 

 

By Stacy Schultz

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5 Responses to “By the Book: Naomi Duguid’s Smoky Napa Stir-Fry”

  1. Hao Says:
    June 25th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    chinese stores in town sell all sorts of pickled veggies. depending on what type of umami flavors i’m looking for, i might get pickled mustard stems in a can, a bag of szechuan pixian bean paste, a pouch of minced pickled veggies called ya-cai, or a pack of small fermented black beans. all of these provide a slightly different flavor to my asian dishes (without them, i’d get bored of just garlic and salt). They all work well with stir fry (green beans, meats, veggies, veggie stems) or as an add-in for chinese noodles.

  2. Colleen Dempsey Dotson Says:
    June 28th, 2013 at 10:05 am

    hahahah I had to google umami and I am STILL not sure I understand it. I (sort of) learned something new today. I do love stir fry but we rent and have a stupid flat top stove and it just doesn’t seem to get hot enough. I tried an electric wok and the same thing- any suggestions?

  3. Hao Says:
    June 28th, 2013 at 11:42 am

    @colleen: my mom cooks on a flat top stove and has since i was 8 or 9. take a thick bottomed stock pot that’s not TOO deep and use that as a wok replacement. we add oil, salt, and garlic, and wait for it to sizzle. then we toss in the veggies and meats we wanted. the thick bottom retains quite a bit of heat so there is lots of fast heat transfer which makes up for the lack of wok/the slower heating of your pan due to limitations of your stove. you can’t do some of the same deep frying things as you can in a wok but it should suffice for stir-frying.

  4. Ian Says:
    June 30th, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    My recent discovery, nutritional yeast, adds nice umami punch to food. I sprinkle it over veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, and spinach. I once added it to my kale chips – so good! It is also really good on popcorn and you can make a really good “mac ‘n cheese’ with it! And I have been told that it is full of protein, folic acid and b vitamins – so it is also a healthy way to add some umami!

  5. joe Says:
    July 2nd, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Fish sauce and miso paste are essentials to my pantry!

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