March 11, 2010

Lamb with Cumin

While I think nothing of getting out ten spices to make a curry, stir-frying has always kind of intimidated me. It's one of those things I think can't be done very well in most home kitchens, because the stoves just don't get hot enough. (My stove certainly doesn't get very hot. I'd kill for better flames.)

But I'm sure tons of people would disagree with me. These are the people who clean out their vegetable drawer by tossing all the odds and ends into a stir-fry. I'm all for tossing the odds and ends into something (my preference is vegetable soup) but I balk at a hodge-podge of murky stir-fried flavors. I like my stir-fries (and my Chinese food in general) more discreet, with one or two vegetables lending their stamp to a dish.

So I was excited to see a simple stir-fry recipe for Lamb with Cumin in the New York Times some weeks ago. I love lamb with cumin, and the dish looked doable, with not much prep work and not too many vegetables—in fact, technically only one: scallions.

Basically, the lamb gets velveted (coated in a cornstarch and egg white marinade to soften it) and then cooked with cumin, whole dried red chilis, and scallions.

The first time I made it, I didn't have scallions so I used leeks instead, and the dish came out great. The dried chilis take on a smoky flavor from the wok.

This time, I didn't have any dried red chilis left, so I used fresh green ones, the largish green ones that are sort of a cross between an Italian frying pepper and a serrano. (no idea what these are called).

The dish was good, but not as good. I missed the smokiness of the dried peppers. If I had a hotter stove and more fearless wok skills (or wok hai), I might have been able to give the fresh hot peppers a nice sort of blister and char, but alas, I am a stir-frying wimp.

The recipe is here for those of you who want to try it. Be sure to brown the meat well, otherwise it doesn't work. And for those of you who can't easily find lamb, beef works too. And if you use a relatively tender cut of beef, you can skip the velveting.

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