While cooking my own version of pepper steak tonight, I recalled a strident conversation/argument with some people in the past
First, here’s my recipe (measurements aren’t exact, because I improvise when I cook, but consider them close to reality)
6 oz lean beef, sliced into thin strips
2 bell peppers, also sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced into thin pieces
4 oz mushrooms, sliced thin
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon (maybe a bit more) lower salt soy sauce
a few dashes of ground black pepper
1 cup of brown rice.
2 1/2 cups of water
Cook rice in water. Start well in advance of the rest of it, because the rice will take a while to cook.
In a wok (or frying pan) add oil, soy sauce, and ground black pepper. Heat until sizzling. Add onion and stir until sizzling again. Add meat and stir until the outer surface of meat changes to “cooked” color. Add sliced peppers and mushrooms for a few more minutes of cooking.
Divide the rice into two bowls, divide what’s in the wok and put it on top of the rice. Mmmmm… serves two.
Now, first argument is that I’ve had some people react with horror that this is a high-fat, high sodium meal. Certainly, typical restaurant stir fry/Chinese food can be that way, and it’s fried, so it has to be bad, but really, that’s 3 oz of lean red meat, 1/2 tablespoon of oil and… well, honestly, I haven’t looked at how much sodium is in Kikkoman’s “lite” soy sauce, which is suposedly less salt than their regular soy sauce. No other salts or oils added. Is this really so terrible, when spread over 1 1/2 cups of brown rice, 1 bell pepper, 1/2 a large onion, and 2 oz of mushrooms for each person? I personally think it’s pretty healthy.
Anyhow,the second debate - I’m told that my cooking is horribly non-authentic. Whatever that means. When I’m done I have real food that I eat for a real dinner. I’m not from Asia. I happen to cook this in a wok, but that’s in part because it’s a convenient shape for this sort of cooking. On a certain level I don’t care because it’s my food, my house, and I like it, but moving right along…
First of all, it would not surprise me if your average Chinese (or other representative Asian person) has never seen or eaten “pepper steak”. Bell peppers, after all, are native to the Americas, not Asia. Then again, Chinese (and other Asian peoples) are just as capable as anyone else of adopting food from elsewhere so maybe this IS known in Asia - is it? Or would this be seen as something foreign?
Also, according to some people I’m a bad person because I don’t add cornstarch to make a thick sauce. Well, cornstarch, in the sense of starch refined from maize, would be a relatively recent introduction to Asia, and certainly not known before 1500. It wouldn’t surprise me if folks over there use a different plant starch. However, I don’t particularly care for thick, gloppy sauces and much prefer the thin, tasty juice resulting from the above. My kitchen, my rules. But that got me thinking - in Chinese cooking in China, is the typical sauce/juice thick and gloppy or thin and runny? I realize this will, of course, vary with the dish, the cook, and so forth but I’m curious as to which is something you are more likely to encounter in China (or other stir-frying place).
And, of course, there’s the cultural value of white vs. brown rice. I would never object to someone serving me white rice (I don’t usually get a choice in restaurants, anyhow) and for some things, like sushi, it appears essential (yes, I know sushi is Japanese not Chinese and typically involves no cooking). However, for cooking at home I prefer brown rice (although sometimes I’ll go crazy, use white, mix half and half, whatever). I realize to some people this makes me look all low-brow and peasant, but hey, I am of peasant background (Russian, not Chinese). Anyhow, my home, my kitchen, my rules. Still - is there a role for brown rice in modern Chinese cooking? Or is it viewed as, say, eating raw potatoes would be in the US (a little weird)?
Apparently, also, I’m not adding enough spices or seasoning. Not just quantities - not enough different ones. Well, I don’t really enjoy recipes that require 14 different spices, 12 herbs, and a partridge in a pear tree. Those recipes can be good, of course, but keeping a large stock of a large variety of such things, properly rotated before they go stale, is not something I want to be bothered with. I’d rather spend my time picking succulent vegetables and excellent meat and enjoy their flavors.
I also have my doubts as to just how elaborate the daily cooking of the average Asian housewife is. I’m not talking about celebrations or special occasions, I’m talking about ordinary daily food. My impression is that typical daily fare is rice and lots of it, with some cooked vegetables and maybe some meat on top. I had a Phillapino lady sternly correct me on this, insisting her relatives back in the old country visited the market daily, used elaborate sauces and spice combinations, and so forth. Well, yes, if you don’ t (or didn’t) have much in the way of refrigeration you’d go shopping fairly often for perishables. But I’m thinking that, between seasonal variations in food and income limitations, not to mention the time required for household and childcare duties, that a lot of pretty plain food got and still gets cooked and eaten.
So… I’m not planning on changing my cooking, and I personally don’t care if it’s “authentic” or not, but I am curious as to how far away from authentic I am. I can offer some of my other stir fry recipes for further comparison, if anyone is interested, which may or may not be more “authentic”.