Andy Baraghani's Ground Meat Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes

Ground Beef Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes

Bruno and I went to our favorite Asian grocery store the other day and I was able to kill at least 30 minutes (amateur, I know) by letting him pull the wheeled shopping basket and peer into every single (!) freezer case and stare at all the bottles of chili sauce and all the bags of rice flour and ask me a million questions about frozen dumplings and frozen anchovies and frozen edamame in his funny little mix of German and English. I lost him a few times and always ended up finding him transfixed in front of a display of rice crackers or wasabi peas or a silvery array of Capri Suns right at his eye level. ("What's daaaat," he whispered in awe.)

Reader, I bought him a Capri Sun because I am not a monster.

I also bought kimchi and two kinds of rice and mirin and Shaoxing wine and a sushi rolling mat and green curry paste. And refrigerated Korean rice cakes, which I love so much. In the annals of memorable meals I've had in this life is a lunchtime feast eaten at a Korean restaurant in suburban Los Angeles in the long-gone spring of 2009. I was in L.A. for work and the friend I was staying with took me to this place that he'd heard was one of the best Korean restaurants in the city. I've never seen so much food on one table for lunch and all of it was, indeed, sublime, especially this one dish, a bubbling, rust-colored stew that had fresh rice cakes snipped into it by a briskly efficient waitress.

Sigh. Sunshine. Los Angeles. Restaurants. Friends. Airplanes. Newness. Noodling down the freeway in a rental car with a sunroof all by myself.

As much as I love Korean rice cakes, I'm still trying to figure out how I should best use them up at home. (I beg you for inspiration, please, dear readers!) The other night, I made this easy little ground meat stir-fry from Bon Appétit, which was tasty and quick (the kids refused to touch it because they are maniacs, but it's actually very child-friendly). You soak the rice cakes in some water while you fry ground meat (I only had beef, though I think pork would be better here and it's what was called for in the original) until it's browned and crispy (big chunks preferable). Then you add the soaked rice cakes, ginger, garlic and scallions and cook, stirring vigorously and frequently, lest the rice cakes glue to the pan (I used a cast-iron pan, nonstick would have probably been better). At the end you stir in some butter, soy and sesame oil for flavor. The whole thing goes very quickly and is a satisfying little meal.

(The eagle-eyed among you will note the tiny cubes of zucchini in the pan - I had one perfect zucchini in the fridge and I thought I'd make this a one-pot meal by adding it to the mix. Also, I made the dish with more meat than in the original recipe and I liked the ratio, so that's what's in the recipe below. I think a handful of bean sprouts might be nice here too.)

But today I can't stop thinking that what I really want to make next with my remaining rice cakes is, cough, real Korean food, not the Bon Appétit-ized version. Readers, what are your favorite Korean cookbooks?

Ground Meat Stir-Fry with Korean Rice Cakes
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

8 ounces/225 grams Korean rice cakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb/455 grams ground pork, chicken or beef
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
5 scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
Salt, freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Place rice cakes in a medium bowl and pour in cold water to cover. Let soak 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, and pat dry.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add ground meat and cook, undisturbed, until browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Break up with a wooden spoon or a spatula and continue to cook, stirring and breaking into large pieces, until browned all over but still pink in places, about 2 minutes more. Add rice cakes, ginger, garlic, and half of scallions; season with salt and plenty of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through and rice cakes are browned in spots, about 4 minutes. If pan looks a bit dry at any point, pour in a little more oil. Remove pan from heat; add butter, soy sauce, and sesame oil and toss to coat.

3. Transfer mixture to a platter and top with remaining scallions.


Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi

Soboro Donburi

After 16 years of food blogging (!), I have yet to figure out how to make ground meat look appealing at dinnertime, when it's dark out and there's no natural light and everyone is hangry and the overhead lamp is casting a shadow. It practically pains me to post this photo above, which looks so...2005, doesn't it? Ack. But you need to know about it. I practically screamed in delight at dinner last night. Besides, you're not here for my photos, are you? You're here for the important stuff! The bossy opinions! The recipes! The mad ramblings of a middle-aged mother who mostly feels like she's at her wit's end! So I'm throwing vanity to the wind. (Besides, a much more photogenic picture of this slam dunk is right here.)

The recipe, by Elizabeth Andoh, is considered one of F&W's 40 best recipes in 2018. Does this mean 40 best ever or 40 best in 2018? I don't know. What I do know: It is currently at the top of my best in 2021.

Cooking it took 9 minutes last night. NINE MINUTES. Nove. Nueve. Neun. (Plus rice in the Instant Pot*, which took 13 minutes.) And it involves literally zero skill. You simply dump ground beef in a pot with sake (or Shaoxing wine, which is all I had), soy sauce, dashi (or water, which is all I had) and sugar (I reduced the sugar to 1 tablespoon down from 1.5 tablespoons). Then you cook it all together, mashing the beef around so it cooks evenly. You add a big mound of grated ginger and frozen peas. The original recipe says 1/2 cup peas to a pound of beef, but I like peas a lot and I wanted to bulk up the meal a little more, so I put in two cups and it was perfect and I'd do it again. You keep cooking until the peas are tender and the liquid evaporates and then it's done and you can sit down and have the most delicious, easy meal and don't forget the pickled ginger on top, because it really makes the whole thing sing.

It's sweet-salty and chewy and fragrant and the grated ginger sort of melts into the background, but gives the whole thing some backbone and it was just such a lovely little meal. I already know we'll be making it all the time. I may even put this baby up on the side of the fridge, it's that good. Plus, NINE MINUTES, PEOPLE. I'm still not over it.

Updated to add that Elizabeth herself chimed in on Twitter, alerting me to the fact that she updated the recipe on her website last year! More here.

*My beloved Cuckoo rice cooker gave up the ghost a few weeks ago. I have yet to rebuy one because the Korean grocery store where I bought it has closed and Cuckoo rice cookers are a lot more expensive than they used to be when I bought mine and the IP did such a beautiful job with the rice last night that now I find myself contemplating buying a second IP rather than a rice cooker. Is this a good idea? What should I do? Help!

Mel D. Cole
Photo by Mel D. Cole.

I'd like to close out this post by acknowledging the pain of the AAPI community, as well as Asians living in other countries who mourn yesterday's shocking murders in Atlanta and the past year's uptick in assaults and injuries, fearing for their own safety. This past year has unleashed a wave of racialized hatred towards Asians throughout Europe and the United States and it is outrageous and completely unacceptable. The deaths of the women in Atlanta are a tragedy. I am also devastated by the thought of Asian men and women everywhere fearing a random attack just because of what they look like. Lisa Lin has listed a few community organizers and advocacy groups in need of support. And Joanna also has a list of organizations to support. While the United States continues to have an unconscionable gun situation, which certainly makes everyone less safe, all Western societies need to do a better job of seeing and treating Asians as full and whole human beings who are every bit as deserving of their humanity as anyone else.

Elizabeth Andoh's Soboro Donburi
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

1 pound/450 grams lean ground beef
1/3 cup/80ml sake or Shaoxing wine
1/4 cup/60ml soy sauce
1/4 cup/ 60ml dashi or water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 cups/240 grams frozen peas
1 tablespoon peeled grated fresh ginger
Hot cooked white rice
Pickled ginger

1. Stir together ground beef, sake, soy sauce, dashi, and sugar in a small Dutch oven or medium-size, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high, stirring often to break up large lumps of beef, 5 minutes. Stir in peas and ginger; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is mostly evaporated and beef is no longer pink but is still moist, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Divide rice evenly among 4 large bowls. Spoon 1/2 cup beef mixture over each. Garnish with pickled ginger.


Nik Sharma's Ground Beef Pulao

Beef Pulao with Raita

As any close observer of my daily meals or longtime reader of this blog can attest, we don't eat a lot of meat. My husband was traumatized by gristle as a child, and by parents who made him clean his plate, no matter how long it took. In my family, where some form of Italian cooking mostly reigned supreme, vegetables and vegetarian meals were always the stars of the show. Roast chicken was the special occasion dish at my mother's house; brisket was the counterpart at my American grandmother's house. These days, there's the environmental factor to consider, which is huge, and also the cost: good-quality meat in Germany is expensive. We simply can't afford to cook meat that frequently if we insist on buying organic meat or even just sustainably raised local meat. It's just as well that my family would almost always prefer a meatless meal.

These days, the meat that ends up on our table most often is (organic) ground beef. Max will never understand the appeal of a rare steak, but give the man a hamburger or a meatball and he's in seventh heaven. The children love the meat ragù that I make on a weekly basis, but they're hot and cold on burgers and meatballs, which is insane, but these are the same children WHO DON'T LIKE PIZZA I AM SERIOUS SEND HELP. Since I am the only cook in the house and I will die of boredom (or become extremely resentful and grumpy) if I can't try new recipes, I'm always thrilled to have a new way to try and get ground beef into their bellies.

(A brief interjection here to rail against the fact that it is still nearly impossible to find ground poultry in Germany. Butchers consider it a hazardous substance and almost all of them refuse to prepare it—only one that I know in western Berlin will grind it for you on the condition that you buy no less than 5 kilos of it. Recently, the grocery store on the corner has started occasionally selling packages of ground (conventional, not organic) turkey, but it's seasoned and...I....just refuse to buy it. For a while, I thought I'd just be resourceful and make my own. I bought a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer years ago only to have it languish in my cupboards until...I resold it a few months ago. Sigh. So beef, pork and lamb are our only options.)

Beef Pulao

One way, of course, is Fuchsia Dunlop's celestial spicy celery with ground beef, but it is too spicy for the boys at their ages now. (I shake my fist at their northern European taste buds!) Another way is in this one-pot meal that has you cook ground meat with spices and aromatics, then mix that with turmeric-colored rice that you cook in the same pot (don't bother washing it out). Fresh mint and scallions folded in at the end give the dish a little lift, though it's the cool bowl of cucumber raita alongside that really makes this a pleasingly complete meal.

The recipe as written was originally meant for lamb, which is far fattier than ground beef, so Nik Sharma has you cook the lamb first to get the excess fat out before you continue with the spices. I made it as he wrote, but since the ground beef had less fat to give off, I actually think you could move steps around a little to get a more aromatic result. In other words, cook the ginger and garlic first, then add the spices and salt and cook until fragrant, then add the beef and cook until slightly browned. Lime juice on top, scrape out of the pan, proceed with the rice. If you do it this way, then I think you should also add a chopped onion together with the garlic and ginger. My adjustments to the recipe are below.

Either way, when the pulao's finished, be sure to make raita to dollop on top. The one in the photo I made by pouring plain whole-milk yogurt into a smallish bowl and seasoning it with salt and ground cumin to taste, then grating in a small Persian cucumber. I love the cooling feel the raita gives against the piping hot rice and meat, plus, if you've actually made the pulao with red chile powder, you'll be happy for the respite from the heat. (I left out the chile powder because I wanted the children to eat the pulao for lunch. And Bruno obliged happily, a minor miracle. Hugo, on the other hand, was unimpressed and left half behind. As I scraped his portion into the trash at the end of lunch, I thought to myself hey, at least our parenting has progressed so far that we don't make our kids clean their plates anymore, right?)

Serenity now.

Ground Beef Pulao
Serves 4

2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground beef
4
garlic cloves, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon red chile powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons lime juice, divided
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 bunch scallions (about 6), trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1. Check the rice and discard any debris. Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under running water until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a bowl, cover with water by 1 inch, and soak for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 250°F/120°C.

2. As the rice soaks, cook the beef: Place a medium saucepan with a heavy lid or a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the saucepan is hot, add the olive oil, garlic, ginger, and onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the garam masala, chile powder, black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until the spices are fragrant, 1 minute. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until cooked through and slightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice and stir well. Scrape the mixture into an oven-safe bowl or pan and keep warm in the oven.

3. Drain the soaked rice. Add to the same pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice, the turmeric and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, and reduce heat to simmer until the rice absorbs all the water, about 10 minutes. (Do not stir the rice as it cooks, or the grains might break.) Remove the saucepan from heat, and let sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

4. Fluff the rice and combine with the cooked meat, then drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice. Fold the scallions and mint into the rice, and serve immediately.
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Melissa Clark's Pork and Black Bean Chili

Melissa Clark Pork and Black Bean Chili

Pssst...

It's me.

I know. It's been, like, 8 months.

(Insert chagrined grin emoji.)

I nearly shut this thing down. No, really. But I couldn't pull the trigger! So here I am again. I missed you guys.

What's been going on? Well, Bruno turned two. Hugo learned how to read and write. In many ways, things are just fine. In other ways, though, the past year has been really difficult. Just life, you know? Nothing spectacular or out-of-the-ordinary. Mothering two young children, noodling forward in a marriage, trying to figure out my career, dealing with money issues...but to top it all off, I've recently been diagnosed with a string of stress-related health problems. I knew something was off last year already, but couldn't put my finger on it. This year, so far, my body has been telling me in no uncertain terms to spend a little more time saying no, putting myself first and finding peace.

Easier said than done! yelled a million mothers in exasperation as she skulked off to a corner to use her phone to meditate. (Insert eye roll emoji.)

It's been scary and humbling and also kind of nuts to witness my body manifest a lot of the crap that I do not do a good job of managing. And I'm kind of overwhelmed at how much willpower it takes to take care of myself. I feel like I'm a total champ at taking care of other people, so it's doubly weird to realize that I'm really failing at me. I'm sort of embarrassed by that. I'm also embarrassed about this paragraph! Let's move on.

Feeding the children has pretty much become a shit show. Hugo has the appetite of a small bird. Bruno is incredibly picky. (The only green thing he eats are spicy olives.) (THE ONLY GREEN THING.) (SPICY.) (MOTHERLOVING.) (OLIVES.) Every once in a blue moon, I throw my hands up and make alphabet noodle soup with a bouillon cube because it's Hugo's favorite thing to eat (insert exploding head emoji) and because Bruno will usually eat it too. But most of the time, I cook the food I want to eat (within reason, people) and then there's a lot of whining and uneaten food and smoke comes out of my ears and no matter what I've made, the meal always ends with Bruno eating chunks of Parmesan cheese.

Because, surrender!

(I read that in a lovely cookbook called Repertoire by Jessica Battilana - in a headnote about newborns and surviving and fattoush salad - last spring and spontaneously burst into tears because it was so profound and wise and right and also WTF why are children so difficult? I sometimes debate going around my house and taping pieces of paper with SURRENDER written on them to the walls. You know, just to remind me.)

Last year, I also discovered this chili from Melissa Clark's most recent cookbook called DINNER: Changing the Game (via Whoorl, but I can't remember in what context) and there were a few brief, shining evenings in which the children and Max and I all enjoyed eating it. Since then, Bruno has decided that ground meat is for the dogs and Hugo hates stew, but Max and I continue to think that this is an exceptionally delicious chili. (It's also a delight to make, which seems important if you derive some modicum joy from cooking, as most of us here do? I hope?) It has sage and beer in it, plus cheddar on top, and it's just really satisfying and wonderful. I'd call it my favorite chili.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I truly love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Melissa Clark's Pork and Black Bean Chili
From Dinner: Changing the Game
Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 pound ground pork (or turkey)
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more if needed
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp minced fresh sage
1 tbsp chili powder, plus more if needed
2 minced garlic cloves
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup lager (like Negra Modelo)
Grated cheddar or sour cream, for serving (optional)
Lime wedges, for serving

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and pepper; cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened and lightly browned, about 7  minutes. Add the pork and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it is cooked, about 7 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, oregano, sage, chili powder and garlic and cook for 1 minute.

2. Add the tomatoes and their liquid, the black beans and the beer. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is slightly thickened, 30 to 40 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve topped with grated cheese (or sour cream) and with the lime.


Tasting Rome's Picchiapò

Picchiapò

This post is brought to you by my iron-deficient blood which periodically makes me crave red meat, like, sit-straight-up-in-bed-practically-slavering-for-an-8-ounce-steak-crave, if you know what I mean. (In German, anemia is also called Blutarmut, which translates to "blood poverty", which always makes me think of my poor little blood walking around with a kerchief on its head, like the Little Match Girl, asking for alms. But I digress!)

I was recently sent a copy of Tasting Rome, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. It's a gorgeously photographed collection of recipes gathered from every corner of the sprawling wonder that is Rome. To be specific, as written in the introduction, "[Rome's] peripheral, graffiti-clad neighborhoods, patrician districts, archeological parks, neighborhood bakeries, artisanal gelato shops, dimly lit cocktail bars, chaotic markets, and innovative restaurants." While I hardly need another recipe for spaghetti cacio e pepe or my most beloved of Rome's recipes, rice-stuffed tomatoes, I am always, always, always interested in the other recipes, the ones I didn't grow up with or, even better, have never even heard of before. And on that count, as on many others, Tasting Rome totally delivers. 

I love that Katie and Kristina include recipes from the Libyan Jewish community in Rome, like a dish of stewed fish with ample amounts of hot pepper, cumin and caraway, served over couscous, or chicken meatballs seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and pistachios. A book on Rome is of course not complete without recipes for offal and in Tasting Rome, a whole chapter is devoted to chicken gizzards, pork liver and tongue. The cocktails reflect contemporary Rome and its electric nightlife. The recipe for pizza bianca is accompanied by a photograph so fetching that I keep finding it difficult to not stick my hand through the page to get at the pizza.

If you need them, all the classics are covered (vignarola, carbonara, cacio e pepe, supplì and so forth). But the recipe I want to tell you about today is a slightly less exalted one, though no less delicious. Long-simmered beef is shredded and stewed in a spicy, oniony tomato sauce, then served in a soft white bun (move over, meatballs!) or ladled over a piece of nice sourdough bread. It's classic Rome food, really, making leftovers shine in a new and humble way. (Though it's a new one for me - and my mother, incidentally!) When I first saw the recipe, in all its beefy glory, my poor blood and I sat up a little straighter.

Hello, lover:

Beef

The recipe comes from the Mordi e Vai stand in Testaccio Market. You start with a piece of beef shin, but I actually ended up using a piece of brisket, because that's what the butcher had and it was perfect, too. You simmer it with some aromatics for a couple of hours. Alternatively, because this is a dish that is meant to recycle leftover beef, you could simply use leftover brisket or leftover pieces of beef from a previous meal. Either way, the meat must be shredded, and some of the soft carrots that you cooked with the beef, roughly chopped. Then you make a simple tomato sauce, flavored only with onions, marjoram and hot pepper. Once the spicy sauce has thickened, the shredded meat and carrots are stirred into it and simmer together until it's all one big, aromatic stew.

I loved making it from start to finish, salting the beef, the long and gentle simmer, the two-forked shredding, and the light stewing in tomato sauce. This is slow cooking at its best; simple and uncomplicated. And what is more satisfying than turning tough old cuts or sad leftovers into something juicy and irresistible?

Shredded beef and carrots

If you had (or have!) a grandma whose specialty was brisket, like I did, let me tell you something. This dish tastes like Grandma's brisket died and went to heaven. The sum of the toothsome shredded beef with its soft little pockets of fat and connective tissue simmered into submission, the addictively spicy tomato sauce, and the sweet and tender carrots, not to mention how good the savory juices soaking into a nice piece of soft bread are, is actually more than I'm able to describe.

You can blame that on me being out of practice, I guess. Or blame it on the anemia! It makes me light-headed and a little woozy. I guess I'm just going to have to go make another batch.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Carne alla Picchiapò
Adapted from Tasting Rome
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound beef shin or brisket
1 cup dry white wine
2 carrots
3 onions
10 black peppercorns
3 cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or 1/2 tablespoon dried
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1. Salt the beef all over and place on a plate. Refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.

2. Place the beef in a large pot with water to cover. Over low heat, slowly bring the water to a very gentle simmer, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Once the water simmers, add the wine, carrots, 2 of the onions, whole, the peppercorns and the cloves. Cook at a low simmer until the beef is fork tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Transfer the meat to a plate and shred it with two forks. Coarsely chop the carrots. The rest of the cooking liquid can either be discarded or reduced to a broth, if desired. It should be strained before serving.

3. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Meanwhile, dice the remaining onion. Cook the onion with a pinch of salt in the oil over medium-low heat until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the marjoram and hot pepper, stir a few times, then add the tomatoes. Cook until the sauce has thickened and reduced a bit, about 15 minutes.

4. Add the shredded beef and carrots to the tomato sauce and mix well. Cook for another 15 minutes. Serve immediately as a sandwich filling on soft bread, served over a slice of crusty bread, or as a stand-alone dish.


Jennifer Steinhauer's Just Good Chili

Just good chili

A week ago, I was over at my friend Sharmaine's house, sitting on her comfortable brown couch in her cozy kitchen while our sons played with trains and trucks and cars on the floor, sort of ignoring each other while they played, but sort of stealing sweet little glances at each other every so often, too. We talked about work and life and parenting, the usual stuff, while her husband Thomas pulled a simple chocolate cake from the oven and we all had some, still warm and lovely. Then Hugo had to go crumb-hunting on the big brown couch, of course, and after that the boys ran around without pants on for a while and Sharmaine told me that there was going to be chili at her birthday party a few days later and I said I'd bring cornbread. After that it was time to go home, so we packed up and left after Jackson and Hugo kissed goodbye at the front door and we all went "awww", and then I couldn't stop thinking about making chili for the rest of the week.

So this is a post about chili.

I was well into my third decade of life before I understood that chili wasn't just something served up at potlucks and Mexican restaurants in Germany. I didn't know that there were rules and strictures about what goes into chili and what doesn't go into chili. And I certainly didn't know about the Chili Appreciation Society International. (!)

Now I do. And while the Italian side of me has a profound respect for food rules, I must confess and beg forgiveness for having found a chili that I love that certainly does not abide by the no-bean rule, which - as I understand it - is likely to be Rule Number One about chili. It's just that this chili is simply so good, as its name already suggests, that it pains me to let it pass by. It's so complex and wonderful, sweet and spicy, and you can just about make it with your eyes closed.

The chili boasts beer and cocoa and coffee, ground meat and beans, and a warm sprinkling of spices. It cooks for an hour or longer, turning the sauce a wonderfully rich, deep brown, almost mahogany. We ate our bowls of chili topped with diced avocado, sliced scallions and a few long shreds of grated cheddar, to bring a bit of color and texture and creaminess into play, and felt almost comically satisfied with our dinner, no cornbread required.

Rules are rules for a reason, I'll admit. But I'm so glad this chili exists.

***

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm going to be teaching a food writing class in Berlin later this month. The class starts May 20 and runs for 7 weeks. There will be reading and writing assignments, snacks by yours truly and it should, I hope, be a whole lot of fun. The stack below is just a sampling of the kinds of texts I think the world needs more of and that we're going to get into. If you're interested in attending, please visit The Reader for more info and to register. And feel free to spread the word!

Food writing class

Jennifer Steinhauer's Just Good Chili
Original recipe here

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Half a serrano or other hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

1. Place a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the meat and sauté until browned, then transfer to a plate.

2. Add the onion to the pot and stir for 1 minute. Take two large sips from the beer, and pour the rest into the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, coffee and tomato paste.

3. Add the brown sugar, chile sauce, cocoa powder, hot pepper, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt and kidney beans. Return the meat to the pot. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, for at least 1 hour (Longer cooking improves the flavor.) Adjust salt and cayenne pepper as needed and serve.


Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuanese Chopped Celery with Beef

Blanched celery

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.

Stirfrying celery and beef

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.

Sichuanese chopped celery with ground beef

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.