By Terry Harris
I’ve always loved pepper steak - thinly sliced flank steak, coarse chunks of onions and bell peppers, and a nice savory sauce. What’s not to love?
But for some reason, I stored my wok away and completely got out of the habit of stir-frying until fairly recently, when bell peppers – one of my favorite vegetables – became as plentiful as the ever-present summer favorites like zucchini!
Ok, strictly speaking, they’re fruit because by definition they “have at least one seed and grow from the flower of the plant.” But in Queenie-world, fruit is sweet and juicy and… and… well, not a pepper!
Anyway, when I spied a sale package of thinly sliced flank steak at the butcher shop, I snatched up that already-sliced beef and raced home where I had some peppers and onions waiting and whipped up a lightning-fast tasty meal faster than I could have ordered take-out. Now it’s my go-to meal whenever I’m long on hunger and short on time. And because you can adjust the seasonings to your taste, it’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t love this.
Actually, that reminds me of my favorite wok story, starring who borrowed mine to impress “ a big fan of Chinese food and especially snow peas” with his culinary expertise. Refusing to let the fact that he’d never actually used a wok faze him, he found a recipe involving snow peas and rice, procured a generous supply of both – he thought - and invited me over for a “special” dinner.
I arrived at the appointed hour just in time to duck underneath a huge wooden spoon that came flying across the kitchen as I entered the door. It seems that he had been attempting to stir three cups of uncooked, dried rice into two 15 ounce – undrained - cans of garden peas. I guess he figured peas are peas?
I did manage not to dissolve into hysterics as he skated over the rice pebbles scattered in the wake of the flying spoon. But I confess that I finally lost it as I watched him scrape the smushed garden peas, previously contained in the soaring spoon - off the kitchen wall. As I recall, we ended up having Mexican take-out that night. True story.
ANYWAY, this recipe is nothing like that. The rice (cooked!) serves only as a base for the main course, which you easily can prepare in a frying pan if you have no wok. There are a couple of things you need to know. First, in this case, stir “frying” only includes about a tablespoon of oil so it’s actually a pretty healthy way to eat. And second, adjusting the amount of garlic and ginger - or omitting either or both altogether (as I generally do) – will only affect the flavor, not the texture.
What you end up with is basically green and/or red bell peppers and onions prepared with small, thin pieces of flank steak. And besides being less expensive than many other cuts of meat, you can stretch your budget even further by decreasing the proportion of meat – and still get the rich, savory beefy flavor. Or, for meat lovers, you can double it!
In the “ingredients” picture, I have some cherry tomatoes that don’t show up in the finished product. That’s because I changed my mind about including them this time at the last minute. But this really is quite tasty with or without them. Or you can substitute broccoli or add sliced water chestnuts. You can even substitute chicken or shrimp for the beef , as long as you make sure to cook the chicken long enough to be well done, but still tender. And I confess that if I’m in a hurry, I sometimes pour in a little water as the veggies (NOT the meat) cook, and cover the pan to “steam” them and get them more quickly to the fork-tender texture I prefer without the wait.
Regardless of what meat, veggies, or short cuts you use, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you end up with a really delicious meal. One thing you might try if you haven’t already is substituting Tamari for soy sauce. I like the darker color and richer flavor, and a plus for some is that though both are made from fermented soybeans, traditional soy sauce contains wheat, but tamari generally does not so it’s considered gluten free.
Whichever you use, follow this simple recipe and you can quickly and inexpensively go from famished to feasting in 30 minutes or less. It makes a truly delicious – and quick – meal, regardless of which meats or veggies you use. Well, except for canned garden peas. I don’t really recommend those unless what you’re really craving is Mexican take-out. Enjoy!
Stir-Fried Pepper Steak
Prep Time 10 minutes Cook Time 20 minutes Total Time 30 minutes Servings 4
1 pound flank steak thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper cored, seeded and cut into strips
1 red bell pepper cored, seeded and cut into strips
1 medium onion, sliced into pieces the same size as the peppers
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
Tamari to taste (May use soy sauce)
¼ Cup water
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
1 teaspoon minced ginger (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Place the meat in a small, deep bowl and pour over the tamari, stirring until coated. Set aside. Heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil over medium high in a large pan. Add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, then add peppers and cook about 3 more minutes, until just tender. Remove vegetables to a bowl.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and turn heat to high. Add the marinated steak to pan and cook for 5-6 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add garlic and ginger, if desired, and cook 30 seconds longer. Return vegetables to pan with the steak. Quickly whisk together the water and cornstarch in a small bowl. When meat and vegetables are thoroughly hot and mixed – after about a minute – pour the sauce over the cooking ingredients and simmer only until sauce has just thickened. Serve immediately over rice.