What's the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? Is this just a regional thing, or are they really two types of potato? I tend to use the names interchangeably . . . I hope that's ok.
I love Chinese food. (The fake, American version, I mean.) There's something about fried meat in a sticky, sweet sauce that drives my taste buds wild. I used to eat it a lot. The prepared food section at Wegmans has some good stuff. I was also a huge fan of the Trader Joe's frozen meals (spicy orange chicken, anyone?), which I had assumed was the closest I would ever get to making Chinese take-out myself at home.
I was wrong. And it's a good thing I was wrong. I was at the University of Toronto this past summer, and spent a fair bit of time walking through Chinatown to get to other places. I passed a number of Chinese groceries. They are disgusting. (Ok, most of them are disgusting - one of the girls I lived with directed me to one that was satisfactory.) Most of the ones I passed smelled like rotting garbage. I steered clear of even buying vegetables there. I would never have considered buying the meat. A few of the butcher shops had whole chickens hanging by the neck in the windows. That freaked me out. I would never buy that.
Now, I understand this is a cultural thing. I live a fairly sheltered life and am easily grossed out. While I am trying to learn more about where my meat comes from and how the animals are treated, I still prefer a healthy distance between the cute farm animals and the finished product. I can't handle a rack of ribs or a whole raw chicken because I am too keenly reminded of what they used to be. But walking around Toronto's Chinatown led me to realize that, while I would not buy these things as groceries, I don't seem to have a problem eating them once they're fried up and tossed in sauce. The chicken in the window that I shy away from is destined for my Kung Pao!
So it's a good thing we've learned to make some great Chinese dishes at home, where I have control over the ingredients I use. This stir-fried beef, broccoli and yams is probably the best we've tried to date. The cornstarch gets the juices from the beef to thicken into a great sauce. And the yams (or sweet potatoes - whatever) provide a really nice twist on the traditional beef with broccoli, introducing a great new contrast in color, texture and flavor. And it's not very hard to make.
Try it. I hope you're as impressed as we were.
Oh, and here's a shot of some of the awesome stuff we got at the farmer's market this week. Those turnips are destined for something tasty . . .
Stir-Fried Beef, Broccoli and Yams
From Bon Appétit magazine, sometime last year.
1/4 c water
3 tbsp light brown sugar
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb flank steak, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4" slices
1 1/2 tbsp corn starch (yeah, that's a lot, but it's what gets the sauce to thicken)
2 1/2 tbsp sesame oil, divided
4 c broccoli florets (about 8 oz)
1 yam (about 8 oz), peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/3" slices (if you do this, you get pretty little half-moons of yam. Since I used a few very tiny yams, I chose to just slice them into rounds)
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger (fresh ginger adds a beautiful kick to the finished product)
Stir the water, sugar, oyster sauce and red pepper in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set the sauce aside. Place the beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cornstarch and toss to coat well. (Since we used about 1/3 more beef than the recipe called for, we should have used more cornstarch. Our sauce didn't turn out quite as thick as the last few times we'd made this recipe.)
Heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil in large skilled on high. Add beef. Stir fry for about 3 minutes, until no longer pink. Transfer to a clean bowl. In the same skillet, heat 1 tbsp of oil (we decided to use a bit less this time around because there was a fair bit of oil left in the skillet). Add the broccoli, yams and ginger. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Add the sauce. Cover, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook for about 5 more minutes, until the vegetables are just tender. (Test one of the larger pieces of yam to be sure.) Return the beef to the skillet. Toss for about another minute until the sauce coats the beef. Serve over rice.