Soy sauce. I’ve never been a big fan of it, even when I could eat the stuff. I always found it too salty, a little too savoury or bitter. Or perhaps it was that the Chinese food I used to eat was so limp and I associated soy sauce with soggy rice, slimy noodles and overcooked chicken. Or maybe my subconscious managed to link soy sauce to feeling vile after eating oriental food. Whatever the reason, we’ve never really got along, and it was not one of the ingredients I was sad to see on my “forbidden” list after I was diagnosed.
Then I visited China and my eyes were opened to real Chinese food. Oh my, what a revelation. I learnt that not all Chinese food is drowned in soy sauce. I learnt that there are many different types of soy sauce; light, dark, somewhere in between. And I started to see that, used subtly, soy sauce can enhance a dish, rather than making it inedible. I discovered that I actually like Chinese food (and I bet I’d like it even more if I could eat those steamed pork buns, char siu bao, mmmm). And amazingly, I didn’t get glutened the entire time I was there (though travelling round with a virtually fluent Mandarin speaker definitely helped).
On my return I began the hunt and fairly quickly managed to find a bottle of gluten-free soy sauce to call my own. I tried it in a few recipes but they seemed to lack a certain something. The texture didn’t feel right; they didn’t taste as lively as I thought they should; they simply weren’t “Asian” enough. My bottle of soy sauce got pushed to the back of the cupboard and forgotten about. Then last week I came across this recipe, and it looked and sounded so delicious I decided to try it out. This time I left my preconceptions at the door. I wasn’t making an Asian dish, I wasn’t trying to make it taste like something I’d had in a restaurant, I was just discovering a new way to cook beef and serve it with rice. And of course, it was delicious.
In hindsight I should have known really. In my early days of cooking gluten free I tried recipes that promised to produce Digestive biscuits! and “Just like the real thing HobNobs” – of course I was wildly disappointed and heartbroken that I’ll never get to taste these things again. The truth is, gluten-free cooking is different, the results won’t be the same as normal cooking, the taste and texture will be different. So we should stop trying to make our food taste like this unattainable “ideal” and appreciate it for what it is. Beef and ginger stif fry? Great! A Chinese friend might wonder what on earth I have done to their classic dish but all I have done is made it my own. And in doing that, I have made it perfect for me.
Beef and ginger stir fry
Adapted from Simply Recipes
I was a little worried the cornflour slurry in this recipe would make it too gloopy and slimy, something I detest in oriental food. However, it turned out to be just right, not too dry, but not too sticky. I think this would work well as a dry stir fry too though, and I might try it like that next time. I also didn’t have any coriander to finish the recipe with, as my coriander has just gone to seed, so I made do without. Not to worry, it was tasty as is, perfect for me. How would you make this perfect for you?
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce (I used “Life: free from” soy sauce, which tastes pretty good. I’ve heard some brands of tamari soy sauce are also gluten free, but make sure you double check)
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh chilli
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
300g stir fry beef strips (or a nice piece of beef, sliced into strips)
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 spring onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red chilli, sliced (seeds in, if you’re daring)
1 small chunk of ginger (2-3cm long), peeled and julienned
1. In a small bowl whisk all the marinade i together. Put the strips of beef into the marinade and toss until well coated. Leave to sit out for at least half an hour to marinade. If you’re going to be using the beef within an hour or so, leave it to marinade on the side, so the beef can come up to room temperature before you cook it.
2. Mix the teaspoon of cornflour with a tablespoon of water in a small mug. Set aside. Make sure all the veggies are chopped and ready to go, as once you start cooking there’ll be no time.
3. Heat the vegetable oil in your wok until it starts to shimmer. Add the beef, (discard the marinade) and cook for 30 seconds, or until just starting to brown. Then add the ginger, chilli and garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
4. Add the cornflour slurry and mix until it thickens up (another 30 seconds). Throw in the spring onions, give it one final toss, and serve over sticky rice.
Serves 2. This would be great with some steamed bok choi on the side to up the green quota slightly.