I have been eating salad meals for far too long and I never quite enjoyed them. Salad is what I would order in a restaurant at lunch, or what I would prepare if I wanted to feel virtuous or any time I was on some diet or another: a bed of greens with an addition of a protein, other vegetables and a vinaigrette.
Have you ever really craved salad? My body might crave vegetables or a clean meal but I have never sat down to a table wishing I could have a salad. And yet, I make it, over and over.
In winter, when a cold meal is less of an appealing option, a stir-fry is my other go-to: fast, hot and perfect for emptying the fridge of any leftovers or about-to-turn vegetables. Recently, my stir-fries have been veering more and more towards Asian flavors, rather than dropping everythng in a pan and mixing it. I have been experimenting with gochuang, the Thai fermented chili paste or any soy and sesame based sauces I can get my hands on.
My new wok has been my inspiration. I can’t believe I waited so long to replace my old metal wok which was so big I would never extract it from its resting place to cook for one or two. I invested in a much smaller wok – a medium size that can comfortably fit a meal for four – and I have been putting it to good use, especially when I come home for lunch and I am pressed for time, or just famished. Some leftover protein gets paired with whatever vegetables I have in the fridge and, if I am lucky, a leftover starch. High heat and a few condiments always work their magic.
For the longest time, I stayed well away from Asian flavors but you can’t live in Los Angeles and not wish to experiment with at least some of the cuisines that are on every corner and, by this point, I built up a decent pantry of spices and condiments. So, yesterday, in 10 minutes I had lunch ready by simply chopping some asparagus, cooking them in the wok with some walnuts and adding leftover fish from the night before.
The entry point for Asian flavoring is the triad composed of soy sauce (or tamari), Mirin and sesame oil, which I prefer spicy. Equal parts of it make your basic condiment. Heat the oil in a frying pan or a wok, let it reach near smoking point and add your ingredients of choice. Add the soy sauce, the Mirin, maybe a pinch of sugar and some chili peppers, and a pinch of 5 spice powder. Cook on high heat and, in a few minutes, a meal has come together. Way, way more interesting than a salad.
To make your own 5 spice powder combine:
1 ts cinnamon
1 ts fennel seeds
1 star anise
1 ts Szechuan peppers
All spices need to be ground