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Wokkin’ Out

January 12, 2010

March 6, 2009

Heating up two woks is fun and acrobatic. The left hand gets its chance to try and the brain gets a little workout. Well-seasoned carbon steel woks grow black over time, but nothing can fade the memory of buying them for 10 or 15 bucks at Ming’s on Washington Street in Boston’s Chinatown. Packed with dried fungus, cuttlefish and seaweed, huge sacks of rice, bottles of soy sauce and rice wine at a dollar and or two a jar, teas, frozen red bean buns and fresh quail eggs, and the wildest, smelliest fish market around, Ming’s is not for the timid. 88 Supermarket on Herald Street is just around the corner and one hundred percent more civilized. But for sheer kicks, insanely low prices and the best deals on rice makers, woks, spider skimmers, and awesome knives, Ming’s can’t be beat. Just bring your sense of humor and a flexible idea of customer service.

After years of dipping into Chinatown for treats, I am well-equipped and find myself making do with the ingredients available locally. Each year it seems I grow more of what I can’t buy – white eggplants, hon tsai tai, garlic chives and Japanese mustard greens have all made appearances in my gardens. I tried a very cheap packet of seeds of those two-foot-long beans they sell wrapped up tight in cellophane, but the plants never bore fruit. I found a source for Asian vegetable seeds, Kitazawa of California, and though the prices are steep, it may be worth it for nice bok choy and choy sum and other good eats.

For dry-fried Szechuan beans, yard-long beans, or snake beans as they are called in Thailand, are best because their tough exterior can handle the rough cooking technique. I’ve found that our tender green beans can be sacrificed to the Gods of heat and smoke. And for those in the throws of what we hope are the last sniffles of the cold season, a garlicky, gingery, peppery side dish is just what the doctor ordered.

Our belly warming main dish is glazed Szechuan chicken wings, and any recipe for same will do, but I recommend for children and pepper-phobic diners that you nix the whole dried chili peppers and instead replace some of the oil used to sear the wings with chili oil.

What’s playing is always important. I usually cook Asian food to Steely Dan’s “Countdown to Ecstasy,” for reason of which I am unsure, maybe something about “Your Gold Teeth.” For this meal I spun the deep and soulful “Timepeace” from former acid-jazz figure and childhood neighbor of Curtis Mayfield, Terry Callier. I love this guy. He brought the immensely talented Pharoah Sanders in for a few tracks, and he is unmistakable. What he does on “Build a World of Love” alone is worth the price of admission. Pharoah’s incomparable sax playing delivers the classic purring and cooing and wailing sound that made him a jazz great. Timepeace won the United Nations Time For Peace award for outstanding artistic achievement contributing to world peace. Check it out.

Old Man Long Beans from Anita Loh-Yien Lau’s Asian Greens

  • 1 1/2 Tbs peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb long beans or greens beans cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch piece gingerroot, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce

Heat the wok on high and add the oil to coat the pan. When very hot add the beans.

Stir fry until wrinkled and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger, pepper and stir fry 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the soy sauce and toss quickly for about 30 seconds. Serve immediately with fresh ground pepper.

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