I love that so many of Rachael Ray’s recipes are prepared in 30 minutes. (Well, for me, they usually take longer. Besides, I’m convinced that “30 minutes” doesn’t include the time it takes to chop and mince things. Whatever; if I can make something in one hour or less, I’m happy.) Here’s one I found in the January issue of her magazine and decided to tackle:
TINGLY SZECHUAN PEPPER BEEF NOODLES
1 lb. dried chinese noodles or thin spaghetti
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, minced
1 small red chile pepper, such as fresno, minced (I had some poblano pepper left over from something else I had cooked, so I used that instead. So sue me.)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 piece (1 inch) ginger, minced
2 tsp. ground szechuan pepper*
1 tsp. chinese five-spice powder
1/4-1/3 cup tamari (dark soy sauce) or liquid amino (a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce and tamari), such as Bragg**
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on an angle
Chili oil or sriacha, for serving
*Difficult to find. I used plain old black pepper.
**I’m pretty sure tamari is usually gluten free; check the label. And I would guess that plain old soy sauce would do just fine if you already have it on hand.
Get Started. Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the noodles and cook until al dente. Drain.
Step 1. While the pasta is working, in a large skillet, heat the oil, 3 turns of the pan, over high heat until smoking. Pat the ground beef dry with a paper towel, then crumble it into the hot oil.
Step 2. Add the onion, chile, garlic, ginger, szechuan pepper and five-spice powder to the beef. Stir-fry until the onion is slightly softened, 2 minutes.
Step 3. Add the noodles to the beef mixture. Stir in the tamari (or liquid amino). Remove from the heat and toss with the lettuce and scallions Serve with the chili oil (or sriacha).
(Every Day with Rachael Ray, January/February 2013, p. 78)
Finding the ingredients was a bit interesting. I decided to use gluten free Thai rice noodles instead of spaghetti. I bought two boxes (perhaps I’ll try making Pad Thai sometime). That one was easy. The other stuff–the five-spice powder, chili oil, and szechuan pepper–was a different story. A quick Google search directed me to my local Wegman’s; my other options were an Asian market that would be out of the way and inconvenient, or ordering online. I found the powder and the oil without any problems, but had no luck on the pepper. I pulled out my smart phone and Googled “What is a good substitute for szechuan pepper?” Turns out the spice was banned in the U.S. until about eight years ago, and is very difficult to find. I looked at a couple of question-and-answer forums, and the consensus seemed to be “Well, there IS no substitute for szechuan pepper. There is nothing like it. But, if you must, you could use regular black pepper…I guess…a highly inadequate substitute (tsk).”
Black pepper it would be, then.
And cooking it? Super easy and quick. I drizzled a teensy bit (we’re talking a quarter teaspoon or so) of the chili oil over the whole thing and tossed it up right before serving, and put the bottle on the table in case anyone wanted to add some to theirs (they didn’t).
The Verdict: They all loved it, especially Moe. I’m seriously thinking of going online and looking for szechuan pepper so I can do it properly next time–and I think I might take a chance on using slightly more chili oil, too. As Rach would say, YUM-O!!