Little of This, Little of That, Lots of Flavor

When Bon Appetit highlighted this dish in the October 2017 issue, the ingredients list promised a memorable experience, something with bold tastes.  The result produces in abundance.  Of course, the visuals alone stun, because how could a meal with such vibrant colors do anything but delight the palate?  This is beef amplified.

One question about Sambal Short Rib Stir-Fry is which county’s cuisine gets credit for inspiring this. This is an unambiguously Asian preparation, certainly, but from which locale?  Obviously, the sambal points to fiery origins in the land of volcanoes, Indonesia.  But aren’t beef and snow peas a trademark Chinese contribution?  Shitake mushrooms and a healthy dose of mirin, Japanese sweet rice wine, suggests that country.  Then there are the red radishes, a hallmark of Western cooking, but in Asia, no so much.

Many places bring life to the plate, and it excels from these diverse inspirations.  This is a true fusion, unifying flavors and techniques from just about everywhere.  In one recipe you get an Asian tour, sampling the best various countries offer.

Sambal is a hot peppery sauce from tropical Asia, almost a mix between sriracha and a fine salsa.  Despite being featured in this week’s name, a detail insured by the quarter-cup contained herein, this is not an especially challenging dish.  The sambal and the radishes provide heat, absolutely, but the basil, the mirin and the snow peas’ sweetness tames this somewhat and the beef absorbs it.  The spiciness acts almost as a flavor enhancer, then, similar to salt.  Flavor ratchets up without taking off the top of the taster’s head in the process.

Before closing, a note about fusion cuisine.  Although today’s entry is a fine example of that style of cooking, it’s not particularly prominent in these pages.  This exception clearly notwithstanding, the focus here is on the purer forms each country brings, to give a true sense of a place.  Sure, when reduced to their basics, all cuisines are fusions of a sort, but the emphasis also must reflect a civilization.

True enough,  but when a combination works, as it does today, the event definitely is worthy of attention.  In this case at least, it’s the best of many worlds.


Sambal Short Rib Stir-Fry

  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 pound boneless beef short ribs, sliced thinly across the grain
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 small onions, thinly sliced (*1)
  • 1/2 pound shitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced thinly (*2)
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1/4 cup sambal oelek
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (*3)
  • 6 medium radishes, trimmed and quartered
  • 6 ounces of snow peas
  • 1 cup chicken broth (*4)
  • 1 cup basil leaves, torn

Season beef with salt and pepper, then place a wok over high heat.  Pour oil into the wok and swirl it until it begins to shimmer.  Add beef, stirring often, until the beef is browned.

Add onions and mushrooms and cook, also stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about eight minutes.  Stir in the scallions, ginger and garlic and cook until slightly wilted, about two minutes.  Add sambal and mirin and toss to coat.

Add radishes, snow peas and broth and bring to a boil.  Cook until liquid is reduced by half and the ingredients are glossy and the sauce thickens a bit, about five minutes.

Serve topped with basil and atop steamed rice.


1 – Do I even need a note any more?  I substituted shallots, of course.  Three shallots equal two small onions.

2 – Be sure to remove the stems.  Growing near oak trees, shitake stems are woody and concentrate inedible elements.  The caps, though, are sublime!

3 – If you don’t have mirin, any sweet liquor, such as marsala or sherry, will do.  You even could increase the broth ever-so-slightly and throw in a dash of sugar.  Not quite the same, but it’ll serve in a pinch.

4 – The canned stuff works, but homemade stock really brings out the flavors.



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