My love affair with Fuchsia Dunlop and Chinese food continues unabated. My latest discovery: how to use up that pesky bunch of celery stalks you're forced to buy when you need but a single one. Ooh, how I hate the sight of those pale green stalks down in the crisper, how they fill me with regret and fury, taking up precious space, growing limp and moldy by the day, an affront to my self-regard as a resourceful, responsible cook! But no more. Thanks to Fuchsia, I've actually gone out and bought a bunch of celery on several occasions now, to use up in one fell swoop, no less. It's nothing short of a culinary miracle.
The dish has the lyrical name of "Send the Rice Down" in Chinese and the slightly more prosaic "chopped celery with beef" in English. But never mind the names - what you need to know is that this dish is one of the more addictive things to ever issue from my kitchen. Eating it is deeply pleasurable and almost painful because you cannot possibly eat as much of it as you would like to, lest you pop your trouser button after your third or fourth plate.
To make the dish, you need only two special ingredients (and special is a relative term depending on where you live): Sichuan chili bean paste, a reddish paste of fermented fava beans and chilis, and Chinkiang vinegar, a black, savory vinegar that you might recognize from your local dumpling shop. Buying both will only set you back a few dollars and will render you richer in the powerful-ingredient department. Besides, it can be fun to see what having these things in your home does to the people who live in it. Take, for example, my husband, who glances longingly, why almost lustfully, at the Chinkiang vinegar every time he passes it. If it were up to him, he'd be doing daily shots of the stuff.
The rest of the work is a walk in the park. There is the slightly fussy step of blanching the celery, but after that tell your eating companions to hoof it to the table, because once you start cooking the beef and the chili-bean paste and ginger hits the pan and goes incredibly fragrant, you won't want to waste any more time with extraneous breaths when you could be eating (or shoveling) this fabulous meal into your mouth.
Oh, and one more thing: It should go without saying that this recipe is easily doubled. I think you'll need to do that.
Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuanese Chopped Celery with Beef
Adapted from Every Grain of Rice
Serves 2 as main with rice or 4 as part of a larger Chinese meal with other dishes
300 grams (11 ounces) celery
3 tablespoons cooking oil
100 grams (4 ounces) ground beef
1 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chili bean paste
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
Light soy sauce to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar
1. Destring the celery, if necessary, and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips. Finely dice the strips. Bring some water to the boil and blanch the celery for 30 seconds. Drain well.
2. Heat the oil in a seasoned wok or pan over high heat. Add the ground beef and stir-fry until it is cooked and fragrant, stirring and pressing it to separate the strands. Add the chili bean paste and continue to stir until the oil has reddened. Add the ginger and stir-fry for a few seconds to release its fragrance, then add all the celery.
3. Continue to stir-fry until the celery is piping hot and well-combined. Season with a little soy sauce, if desired. Finally, stir in the vinegar and serve immediately.