July to November—that’s how long I’ll go without traveling. My estimate doesn’t include ad hoc family trips or one weekend escape to Fire Island, but my tolerance for staying put has never been good. My current level of “stir crazy” is reaching a precipitous peak and the cyclical routine of my days is palpable. South Africa is right on the horizon though, and I had a brief burst of cooking creativity this past week as I eagerly anticipated my next venture.
I had in my possession some Sweet Thai basil, so fresh that the scent smacks you in the nose the moment you unseal a corner of the bag. For my birthday, my mother (knowing me too well) bought me a tour of an indoor hydroponic farm in Manhattan where you drink Prosecco and taste rare herbs. I geeked-out over rare herbs in epic levels. The farm uses ladybugs as natural indoor pest controllers, so the place was crawling with them. I received a big box of herbs to take home and a rogue ladybug managed to sneak into my parcel and ended up flying all over my apartment for an hour before I could free it. So. Cool.
I can effectively pronounce the names of about ¼ of the herbs I received, but I’m on a mission to cook with them all. I have a had a few decent successes so far—whole roasted chicken with bright lemon balm and garlic rubbed under the skin, mustard greens sautéed with lemon, broccoli tossed with Micro Shungiku.
I am decently satisfied with the results of my Thai Basil Beef in particular, so that’s the one that I’ll share with the world. I paired it with a raw beet salad tossed with Red Veined Sorrel, which gave it a crunchy and tangy flavor. If I did anything differently, I would have roasted the beets for a few minutes to mellow out the sharpness.
Thai Basil Beef and Beet Salad with Red Veined Sorrel
-1 lb beef sirloin, cut into small cubes
-1 whole red bell pepper, chopped into stir fry-sized pieces
-½ cup fresh Sweet Thai basil, roughly chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 shallot (approx. 2 bulbs), minced
-Juice from 1 lime
-Soy Sauce, enough to cover and marinate the beef
-Oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons for cooking, 1 tablespoon for marinating.
-Sugar, just a pinch
-1 yellow beet, pealed and chopped into small cubes
-1 red beet, pealed and chopped into small cubes
-1 ripe avocado, chopped into small cubes
-Juice of 1 lemon
-Salt, a few pinches
-Red Veined Sorrel, just a handful, ripped into a few pieces
Start by tossing the beef with soy sauce, a little olive oil and 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce. Allow to marinate for about 20 minutes. Coat a large frying pan with olive oil and set over medium heat. Drain the beef chunks and sprinkle generously with chili powder. Toss the beef into the pan along with the minced garlic and brown it on all sides. Remove the beef and set aside as soon as it is browned (it will cook more later).
Add the shallots to the hot pan and allow to cook for several minutes until they begin to caramelize. Add the chopped red bell peppers, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to avoid burning the garlic still left in the pan.
Once the peppers begin to soften, add the beef back into the pan and toss with a few tablespoons of the soy sauce marinade, the remaining oyster sauce, and the lime juice. Sprinkle a little sugar over the beef and toss to mix together. Once the sauce thickens and sticks to the beef and peppers, add the fresh Thai basil and cook for about 30 seconds, until it wilts. Immediately remove the pan from the heat to avoid overcooking the basil. Sprinkle with salt if it needs a flavor kick.
Toss all salad ingredients together and sprinkle a small handful of Red Veined Sorrel on top. The Sorrel enhances the lemon flavor and gives the salad some crunch.
The beef should be tangy with a hit of sweet heat. There is nothing like cooking with ultra-fresh herbs. The aroma swirls through my tiny apartment like a foodie freight train, reminding me hours later that I can never escape the draw of my kitchen.