Stir-fried cucumber and pork with golden garlic
Stir-fried cucumber and pork with golden garlic from Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. The beni shoga (red pickled ginger) just wanted to be there for the photo.

Just ’cause are my favorite kind of gifts. My mother sent me Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, not for any particular reason, but because she suspected it could be a cookbook I didn’t already own. I skimmed the book on the bus to work this morning and—remembering two homegrown cucumbers given to me by my next-door neighbor—I decided to make the recipe for stir-fried cucumber and pork with golden garlic. The cookbook features many stories from ex-pat Chinese who speak of trying to recreate “real” Chinese food in Peru, the United States, Burma, Jamaica. Some of the stories ramble a bit and could have used tightening up. And one particular story concludes with an attempt at a kind of metaphysical food writing that can fall very flat. Writing about how a simple eggplant stir-fry is delicious made either with or without ground pork, she states:

I no longer ponder how the magic works—how one meatball’s worth of pork or that tiny pinch of minced ginger can even be detected in the final dish. That is part of the mystery of a well-constructed stir-fry. It is built on layers of flavor and texture, and every ingredient, no matter how seemingly insignificant in quantity, contributes to the alchemy.

Besides the fact that this could describe almost any cooking anywhere in the world (layers of flavor and texture), I’m not sure magic and alchemy explain being able to taste ground pork in an eggplant stir-fry. It seems more like, well, logic and chemistry to me. I do love good food porn, but I like it well written. I’ll give her a pass on the poetics: the photos of Chinese women holding up woks and bowls full of Chinese food are very sweet and make me hungry.

The technical information is very clear and well-written. For example, she spends 16 pages on buying, seasoning, and caring for a wok. I was extremely surprised and smugly gratified to find a page with a photo of a carbon-steel wok that had been used for two years (and was therefore properly seasoned) that looked exactly like my well-used black beauty that I bought 17 years ago. Yes, ol’ Grace had me there. So, having convinced me with her good tips and ego stroking, I decided to get to work right away trying out the recipes.

For the pork and cucumber stir-fry, I had the cucumbers and I bought some Niman Ranch pork. I was already starting with delicious ingredients; it would be up to me to not screw them up. In this recipe you mince a large amount a garlic and pre-fry it to infuse the oil. The garlic cooks only until “light golden” and then is strained from the oil and reserved. The pork gets a marinade of soy, sugar, salt, and corn starch. Like most stir-fry recipes, you must prep everything in advance and then go for it because after you fry off the garlic, the rest of the recipe takes about 4 minutes: fry up slivers of ginger, brown pork in wok, but do not cook through, add cukes, toss, splash in some soy sauce, mix in reserved garlic, serve. I added hot chili flakes because my Bolivian husband gets nervous if his food lacks capsaicin.

Good stuff, thanks mom.