The Dorm Gourmet: Mongolian Beef for Two Recipe

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Mongolians!

The two men walked bow-legged and with a commanding posture. They were strikingly dressed in colorful, robe-like silken outfits. Who were these guys and where did they come from? As a foreign student myself in Budapest in the 1980’s, whenever my professor and I saw other foreigners, we loved to play “whence they came”. These two were a formidable challenge. I had no idea. A moment or two later, my professor had a knowing look in his eyes.

“Mongolians!”

We never confirmed it, but the explanation was simple, and I am sure correct. Mongolians are a herding, nomadic people. These men clearly had spent the better part of their lives on horseback; one could practically see the outline of a horse’s back between their bowed legs. At the time, Hungary was a popular tourist destination for other members from the Soviet Bloc.

Ever since the encounter with the Mongolians in Hungary twenty-some years ago, I’ve held a sort of awe for these people so distant from my own life. I was reminded of my brief encounter with those fearsome-looking men this past week when I had the opportunity to try two different versions of a staple of Chinese restaurant menus: Mongolian Beef.

Both recipes were oniony, beefy stew-like mixtures with red pepper. One was a take-out item, the other was a frozen dinner. Neither was particularly good. Authenticity aside, I thought I could do better. I decided to stick with the basics: beef, onion and red pepper. I added carrots to improve the appearance and nutrition and kept the gooey cornstarch to a minimum. If you have fish sauce, I suggest a drop or two for the umami (deliciousness). The ingredients are all inexpensive and the recipe is easy to prepare.

Mongolian Beef for Two

Ingredients:

8 oz. Chuck Steak, Eye of Chuck, Sirloin or similar inexpensive, but marbled cut

1 Medium White Onion, chopped

2 Medium Carrot, coined or julienned

½ Cup Chicken or Beef Broth

2 Scallions (green onions), cut into one-inch sections

1 Garlic clove, minced

1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce

1-1/2 Tablespoons Cooking Oil (Canola, Olive or Sesame)

½ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes or to taste

1 teaspoon Cornstarch

2 drops of Fish Sauce (optional)

  1. Directions (stovetop) To facilitate easy slicing, place beef in freezer for approximately one-half hour before use. Remove beef from freezer, cut across the grain into ¼ inch strips. If strips are more than two inches long, cut in two.
  2. In a deep-sided pan, heat oil over medium heat and add chopped white onions. Cook until transparent (3-5 minutes). Add minced garlic and stir for one minutes.Move onion garlic mixture to a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Add carrots to pan. Cook three to five minutes. Remove and add to the onion and garlic mixture.
  4. If pan is dry, add one or two teaspoons of oil; turn heat to medium high and add beef strips to pan. Stir occasionally for 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Return carrots, onions and garlic to pan with the cooking beef strips. Reduce heat to medium; stir for one minute.
  6. Add the broth, soy sauce and red pepper flakes to the pan and reduce sauce for 5 to 10 minutes. To thicken the sauce, add a cornstarch slurry of one 1 Tablespoon water and 1 teaspoon cornstarch.
  7. Add green onions immediately before serving.

Adjustments for Simplified, Rice Cooker Preparation

1. Use the “cook” setting for the entire process.

2. Cut beef into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time and guarantee doneness.

3. Leave all ingredients in cooker throughout process; use broth throughout to prevent overcooking of vegetables.

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