Simple, winning Asian midweek meals

Donal Skehan: Szechuan pork & green bean stir fry and spicy steak noodle bowl with sesame soy dressing

 

This month I have been travelling across Asia, taking in six countries; Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, Macau and Japan. It’s a whirlwind journey for a new TV series which will air in Ireland and the UK next year. It’s been an incredible opportunity to explore the complex cuisines of a continent that has always intrigued me.

The high summer temperatures and humidity have only added to the hustle and bustle of each city and heightened the experience. My days have been spent focusing on specific food stories, like the sweet South Korean LG businessman who teaches baking to his fellow male workmates as a means to help them find partners – it certainly beats the guided tours and catapults you into the worlds of each of the local people I have met. My evenings provide more freedom and an opportunity to sample some of each cities’ best food offerings. A fantastic chance to indulge my love of Asian ingredients and sample some of the more interesting dishes these diverse countries have to offer.

I have been out of my kitchen for over a month and I am already looking forward to getting back to cook through some of the brilliant dishes I have sampled. With that in mind, this week it’s all about simple Asian dishes that make perfect weeknight suppers.

There are many directions to take a pack of minced meat but one way to really make it something special is in a Szechuan pork & green bean stir fry. By simply frying the pork mince with aromatics like ginger, chilli and Szechuan peppercorns and combining with green beans and vegetables of your choosing, you have dinner in minutes with minimal effort. 

Simple Asian flavours can be created with great ease once a little time is spent on stocking up on pantry basics. Soy sauce, sesame oil and fragrant spices can be bought in much larger quantities and often with much better quality and more variety by seeking out Asian specialty stores. Many of these ingredients keep extremely well for more than six months, meaning a small investment allows you to make use of them in plenty of dishes. The steak noodle bowl I’ve shared here makes great use of these store cupboard ingredients; sesame seared steak slices on a bed of udon noodles with crunchy Chinese cabbage strips and coriander leaves are tossed together with a simple dressing – a hit for a quick bite.

Two rather simple dishes that deliver an instant hit of Asian aromatics. Both are delicious for a weeknight dinner but rather satisfyingly, should you have leftovers, each improves in flavour the day after cooking.

Szechuan pork & green bean stir fry

Szechuan pork & green bean stir fry
Szechuan pork & green bean stir fry

This simple stir fry makes a wonderful base for any other vegetables you might like to add. Shredded Chinese cabbage, bok choy or julienne peeled carrots are all welcome additions should you wish to pack this stir fry with vegetables.

Serves 4

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

500g pork mince

200g green beans, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal

1 red chilli, finely sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely grated

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated

2 tsp sugar

4 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp rice wine

6 Szechuan peppercorns, ground

6 spring onions, finely sliced (plus more to serve)

To serve:

Basmati rice, cooked

Place a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the oil then add the minced pork and using a spatula, fry the pork while breaking it up into small pieces. Continue to cook for five minutes or until the meat is slight browned.

Add the green beans, chilli, garlic and ginger and stir fry for a further five minutes until the beans are tender.

Add the sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, Szechuan peppercorns and spring onions and continue to stir fry until the liquid has been absorbed and the meat is completely coated.

Serve warm with cooked basmati rice and a sprinkle of spring onion.

Spicy steak noodle bowl with sesame soy dressing

Spicy steak noodle bowl with sesame soy dressing
Spicy steak noodle bowl with sesame soy dressing

A wonderfully versatile noodle bowl concept that can be adapted with so many variants. Take the dressing in a Thai direction by whisking together fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilli or try inspiration from South Korea with a spicy gojujang dressing by adding a dollop of the spice paste into the dressing here.

Serves 2

1 tbsp sesame oil

250g rib eye steak

250g udon noodles, cooked & cooled

½ head Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced

A good handful of roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped

6 spring onions, finely sliced

A good handful coriander leaves

Sea salt

For the dressing:

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine

1 tsp sesame oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Heat a frying pan over a medium high heat. Rub the steak with sesame oil and season generously with sea salt and fry three-four minutes on either side until medium rare. Remove from the pan and allow to rest for five minutes covered.

Mix together the ingredients for the dressing.

Arrange the udon noodles, cabbage, spring onions, peanuts in two serving bowls.

Slice the steak thinly and split between the two serving bowls.

Pour over the dressing and garnish with coriander leaves.

Serve right away.

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