Cumin-Spiced Lamb, Stir-Fried Leeks, and Quick-Pickle Zucchini

It is finally Chinese week! Based on that exclamation mark, I’ve obviously been looking forward to this week. I think part of the reason why this project was feeling a little tedious was there were a few weeks where I wasn’t super pumped about what I was cooking. The weeks in Spain and Hungary were fine but I didn’t feel like I was learning anything new. I was a lot more excited about Mexico and Colombia but I think most of that excitement stemmed out from my personal connection to those countries. The last time I remember being really into what I was making was Korean week and that was because I was cooking with ingredients I hadn’t used before and was actually learning something. So with Chinese week, it’s a little combination of personal connection and the high from doing something new.

My mom lived in Taiwan for a few years in her early twenties. Her first husband was in the Navy and he was stationed in Taipei. Now, I know Taiwan is NOT China (or maybe you think it is, this is not the place to discuss such matters) but my mother’s time in Taipei instilled in her a lifelong love of Chinese food. Or, technically, Taiwanese food, however, I don’t think she was able to find a lot of actual Taiwanese food when she moved back to the US in the late 60s so she had to settle for Chinese.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in an itty bitty town in southwest Texas. Uvalde did not have a lot diversity when I was growing up. It still doesn’t but it’s slightly better than when I was a kid. Anyway, the population when I was there was 60% Hispanic, 39% white, .5% Asian, and .5% African American. Okay, those numbers might not be accurate but I bet I’m not far off. So anyway, my mom always had to wait to get her Chinese food fix for when we’d go to San Antonio or visit my aunt in Fort Worth so you can imagine her elation when The Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant opened in Uvalde in 1987. Or maybe 88, I don’t remember. What I do remember is eating there A LOT. So much so that after a while, we didn’t even have to order our food; the owner already knew what we liked and would bring it out shortly after we arrived. Our favorite was Moo Goo Gai Pan and we still order it when we have our annual Christmas day lunch at our neighborhood Chinese restaurant, A+A Sichuan China.

And that’s why I was looking forward to Chinese week. It’s not just an opportunity to try out new food or learn new techniques, it’s also a way for me to connect to my childhood and my mom. Oh man, my allergies are really making my eyes water…

The first night was more me cleaning out my fridge than actually trying to learn a new dish. I had thawed out some ground lamb on Sunday morning for dinner on Sunday night but then I went on a winery tour and when I got home, I was in no mood to cook. I knew I had to use it fast so I looked up a Chinese lamb recipe and hoped for the best. The recipe I found needed lamb shoulder cut into cubes and then skewered. I improvised and shaped the ground meat and then refrigerated it for a bit so that it would keep shape on the skewer. I went ahead and “marinated” it in the spice rub but I don’t think that was really necessary because I don’t think ground meat absorbs dry spices very well without actually mixing it into the meat. I also didn’t grill it but I did broil it so the meat wouldn’t dry out (and also so I could throw something in the oven and not have to worry about it too much). I broiled them for about twenty minutes, turning them once halfway, and they came out looking pretty good. They also tasted pretty good. I didn’t think they were spicy at all but I didn’t use Szechuan peppers and substituted anise for the fennel seed because I was out of fennel seed.

The leeks were another last minute addition. I had two leeks leftover from the albondigas sauce and I didn’t want to compost them so I chopped them up and stir-fried them in oil and chicken stock. These I loved! They were crunchy, despite cooking them for a while, and the flavor was amazing! I was expecting a strong, pungent flavor akin to onions but it was more mild and sweeter. It was also salty but I think that was the chicken stock.

What I was most proud of was the zucchini because 1. I winged it and 2. I used what I’ve learned about pickling through this project. I wanted something vinegary to offset the expected spice from the lamb and acidity of the leeks but I didn’t want to have to wait days to get it. I remembered the onions from Nepal week, where they were just soaked in lemon juice for a bit and came out deliciously tender, so I used that as a base for my idea on a quick pickle. I sliced the zucchini as thin as possible and then sprinkled salt and a bit of sugar on top, I topped it off by pouring maybe 1/4 of a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar over it and then let them sit in the fridge for a half hour. They came out just as I expected; soft and tangy! I was really happy with it because it’s proof that I might actually know what I’m doing and I’m learning. This project hasn’t been in vain!

And with that, Chinese week kicked on with a “HELL YEAH!” So far I’ve been really happy with what I’ve made and I can honestly say it’s been one of the best weeks this year. *cue “The Best Week Ever” music*

Recipe, Recipe


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