To fully prepare ourselves, first echo Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more.” With our preconceptions far behind us, grasp the three sacred principles:
1) It’s always, every time, about the sauce in the bottom of the pan.
2) In a ‘steam fry,’ crispy vegetables go first, green leafy vegetables go in last.
3) A cup of every crunchy vegetable you own is invited; move fast to preserve the crunch.
1 large fistful of chopped kohlrabi*
1 large fistful of chopped daikon*
1 large fistful of sliced bok choy*
1 medium onion, diced
3+ garlic cloves, smashed and sliced
Chunk ginger, grated, or ginger sauce
Soy sauce Tabasco sauce
1 tomato, coarsely chopped, or Lorna’s Hot Salsa (from The Old Church Farmers' Market)
1 carrot, grated
1 1-inch-thick slice of cabbage, diced
Olive oil or butter
Salt and pepper
Anything fading in the fridge that needs to be used up (e.g., mushrooms)
Anything with crunch (turnip, beets, cauliflower, bean sprouts, Napa cabbage)
Chinese lettuce; fish sauce; grated Parmesan cheese for topping; salted, peppered and buttered rice in the bottom of the bowl if you need to feed a gang; pork or beef if carnivores are coming over.
*Kohlrabi doesn’t mind if you left it on the root cellar floor. It wears a tough little coat that can handle that.
*Daikon: if you are scandalously not buying local and don’t see it, look for Lo Bok or white radish. Daikon is the Japanese term for this big, long, white, carrot-shaped thing that is very succulent with a mild radish flavour.
*The bok choy can get limp in the fridge, but the sauce will rehydrate it and no one needs to know. Same with parsnips. What happens in the kitchen and root cellar stays in the kitchen and root cellar.
*Red cabbage is preferred because red is Jim's favourite colour.
I’m going to broadly handle the recipe in two parts, the steam fry and then the sauce, but everything really happens together as you race along keeping the crunch in tow. The size of the pot and burner limits the preservation of the crunch. To go larger, you need to go outside to the big wok over the wood fire in the yard. (Ah, I don’t have one either.)
The Steam Fry:
Slosh olive oil in a big fry-pan at medium heat.
If you have beets, dice them into tiny cubes and put them in the pan, then grated carrot, small cubed turnip, cubed kohlrabi and thinly sliced parsnips. Throw them in the pan as you peel and chop.
Toss the harder vegetables around in the oil for a short fry, while you peel and cube the rest.
Pepper everything hard. Go easy on the salt: soy sauce is coming.
Add a mug of water and bring the pan to a good simmer.
If you want, add a few shakes of fish sauce. If you've never used it, be prepared for an old sock smell when it gets hot.
Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and few drops of Tabasco.
Add a coarse chopped tomato or Lorna’s Hot Salsa.
Add mushrooms if you have them.
Add daikon (peeled and sliced into rectangles or chopped).
Add the white stem part of bok choy (sliced); reserve the leafy bits until the end.
Cover everything with the cabbage.
Shake olive oil over everything, lightly salt and pepper it again. An option is to shake rice vinegar on it.
Add water to keep things steamy wet, not soupy. Cover.
Lightly cook the onion-garlic mix. Add ginger to taste.**
Put this in the microwave. Add olive oil if there is a militant vegan in the house actively spying on you, but a big table- spoon of butter on top is always the best choice.
Set the microwave on high. Stir every 5 seconds.
Go back to the pan, push the vegetables aside and taste the broth. It should have a bite, but it shouldn’t bite back hard. Add salsa or a drop of Tabasco to perk it up further if needed.
When satisfied, add the buttered garlic and onion sauté to the sauce, add the bok choy greens, stir and toss.
If you are of the cheap ginger sauce persuasion, mix it in now. If you are a ginger purist, dribble 1-2 tablespoons of honey over everything.
Turn off the heat, uncover, and give everything a moment's rest while you get your bowls and utensils out.
To serve: Spoon into bowls from the bottom of the pan, and add extra sauce on top and maybe grated Parmesan.
**If you use the store-bought ginger sauce, add it on the last mix before serving. If you are using grated ginger, add it to the garlic and onion sauté. (Sometimes, Jim says, he uses the store sauce at this point because he is now tired of chopping and peeling, at risk of losing the crunch, and getting hungry).