Night of the Living Wok

Today I broke out my brand new non-stick wok from Ikea.

The first wok I had ended up in the garbage can about two years ago and was only used twice. I never replaced it because I completely lacked the confidence to try woking again. That wok had died a slow horrible death, and I didn’t want to think about it. See. . . the first time I woked, it turned out okay. I seasoned the pan according to the manufacturer’s instructions and I cooked a stir-fry a few days later, and it turned out just fine. I cleaned the wok, once again according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and something went wrong.

The next time I cooked in it, the seasoning must have come off and everything in the pan smoked and burned. I hastily removed the wok from the burner and hot oil leapt out of the pan and onto my arm. I still have the scar. After my shock and anger at the trauma had subsided, I discarded the burned food and let the pan cool before rinsing it in warm water with a light detergent. I thought I might try again, so I carefully dried off the wok and set it on the counter.

My takeout arrived (when you try new things in the kitchen as often as I do, you learn to program a few takeout places into your speed dial). The next night I noticed that there were rust spots in the wok. I must not have dried it completely. Into the garbage can it went. šŸ˜¦

And then I saw this non-stick wok at Ikea for $5!

Non-stick = no need to season the pan, or burn your veggies, or burn your arm with hot oil while attempting to save said burned veggies.

This evening I was brave enough to use it for stir-fried tofu and veggies. It was like my old wok had come back from the dead, but now it was stronger and it meant business. I liked it.

Heat oil in the wok until hot and smoking. Add tofu.

So far so good.

Using bamboo utensils, move the tofu around the pan until it is almost browned on all sides. Remove the tofu from the wok. Add more oil if needed and add fresh vegetables to the pan. Employ the same method to cook the vegetables.

Please excuse the dirty stove. I graduated from the “if you didn’t make a mess, you didn’t work hard enough” school of cooking.

When the veggies are cooked, return the tofu to the pan. Ooh eee ooh. Killer tofu.

Add stir-fry sauce to coat (bottled or homemade) and cook for another minute until heated through. Toss with noodles or serve over rice.

Late-night, one-pot, home-made, take-out MAGIC.

I am so glad I have gotten over that fear. This $5 wok is my new best friend. (Sorry Kyle and Melissa… you’re still at the top of my list. Right below my wok.)

Bok Choy

I’ve been saving this post for awhile because every time I got to researching bok choy, I ended up getting intrigued by some other Chinese cooking ingredient and reading myself way off track. So while this is no longer the seasonally relevant post I had hoped it to be, I’m not waiting until bok choy reappears in my local farmers market to talk about it, so here we go!

This is not my photo. I snagged this one from milwaukeeadventurebootcamp because every picture I took of my bok choy turned out to be horrible. The shot of my springy, green, freshly washed Chinese cabbage came out looking like dark, wet, soggy lettuce. And that is not the most appetizing thing to look at, so I have omitted the un-sexy vegetable photo.

Bok choy has always scared me. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t know what to do with it, and I felt it was best to leave it to the experts down at the Chinese carry-out place around the corner. When I saw it at the grocery store or at the market, I admired it from a distance while picking out a nice bunch of kale or spinach leaves instead. Then one day I saw it while perusing the produce at the South of the James market and I decided to go for it. I don’t know if it was the extra shot of espresso in my iced latte or the fresh cash burning a hole in the pocket of my jersey cotton sundress but something made me think, “oh, what the heck.” And so began my adventure.

Bok choy originated in China, and then was introduced to Korea and Japan in the early 20th century as a result of war in the region. It was then that bok choy became the main ingredient in kimchi (yum!). It was introduced to Europe shortly thereafter and it is now available in markets around the world. While it is available year round at the grocery store, I have seen bok choy in the local farmers’ markets mainly in the Spring.

The crop has tender white stalks and dark green leaves. Its name comes from “pak choi” which means “white vegetable” in Chinese (according to chinesefood.about.com, so take that with a big grain of salt, or soy sauce if you prefer). Bok choy is rich in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. This was definitely one of the more healthy decisions I have made as a result of a wad of cash burning a hole in the pocket of my sundress. Three cheers for maturity!

I wasn’t too adventurous on my first attempt at cooking bok choy because I wasn’t sure how it would taste or how it would behave on the stovetop, so I made a nice stir fry. Somewhat vague instructions follow because my soy sauce stained notes were made hastily as I chopped and sauteed my way through this simple and improvised recipe.

1. Press one 14 oz block of tofu until water is drained.

2. Cut tofu into small rectangles and saute in oil over medium-high heat, turning to brown all sides. Remove tofu from pan and onto paper towels.

3. Add 8 oz of thin spaghetti to a pot of salted boiling water. Cook according to package instructions while stir frying the vegetables.

4. Add one small onion, chopped, to the stir fry pan and saute until translucent. Add 3-4 bunches of chopped bok choy (stalks and leaves) and a few chopped carrots to the pan, adding more cooking oil as necessary. It is okay to chop the vegetables into big chunks; I like it better that way than a fine dice.

5. Stir fry vegetables until bok choy is bright green and nearly wilted.

6. Mix together and add to the stir fry pan: 1/4 cup of low sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of honey, 2 tablespoons of oil. Return the tofu to the pan and simmer 1-2 minutes.

7. Add 1 jalapeƱo, minced, with ribs and seeds removed, to the pan. Also add 2 teaspoons of chopped ginger and 2 teaspoons of minced garlic. Simmer an additional 2-3 minutes.

8. Toss tofu-vegetable mixture with drained spaghetti and serve on adorable little square plates.

I think we ate this with mojitos, but in the future I would have it with a lager for a better pairing. But hey, when you need a minty sweet cocktail, you gotta have a minty sweet cocktail, so pair it with whatever you would like and choose your own adventure.