Sunchoke and Cashew Stir-fry

Sunchoke and Cashew Stir-fry Recipe

I have a baby wok. It is cast-iron and metallic grey with a crackly surface texture, something reminiscent of elephant skin. My wok has a round bottom, two handles, and aspirations - or rather, I have aspirations for it. It is simple in shape and material, and will eventually be able to tell its own story through the patina it will develop on its surface - the sort of thing that takes time, and countless meals. This relatively new addition to my kitchen has been sitting on my stove lately next to my old cast iron pan - one black and slick, the other young and fresh with barely a bruise of color beyond the grey. If you have a minute, I'll tell you how it got here. This all started when Grace Young took me wok shopping in San Francisco's Chinatown a few months ago.

Sunchoke and Cashew Stir-frySunchoke and Cashew Stir-frySunchoke and Cashew Stir-fry

Actually, Grace and I chatted about wok cooking while signing books next to each other last year at a conference. I told her how my dad would cook with a wok once or twice a week when I was a kid, after taking classes at the local junior college. Grace and I agreed it would be fun to go wok shopping the next time she was in San Francisco. I'm junior varsity on the stir-fry front and I was excited that Grace was game to talk me through my wok options. And she did! Grace is awesome, and her enthusiasm for wok cooking is infectious. I came home with the perfect wok.

Now, I believe in serendipity, and although I suspect Grace had planned to set me up with a carbon steel wok (which I think would have been perfectly nice to cook with), fantastically practical with it's flat bottom and wood handles. Tane, the owner of The Wok Shop, had a run on those the previously day. Instead, a traditional Chinese-made cast iron wok was handed to me - the kind Cantonese home cooks swear by to impart the coveted taste of wok hay. There are few things I love more than cooking in cast iron, and I knew in an instant this was the wok for me. In the months since, my wok and I have become fast friends. I think people have the idea that cast-iron is fussy, but it's really not so. My cast iron skillet is as slippery as any non-stick, and my wok is well on its way.

Sunchoke and Cashew Stir-frySunchoke and Cashew Stir-frySunchoke and Cashew Stir-fry

Grace was in SF last week, and she came over for lunch (and to take my pan for a spin). It was fantastically helpful to see some of her cooking techniques in action. We made two dishes with fresh ingredients I'd picked up at the farmers' market. This one was a simple fried rice stir-fry made with day-old brown rice, sunchokes, sweet corn, toasted nuts, and punches of flavor from basil, ginger, garlic and the like. Big thumbs up. I wrote up the recipe down below.

There are definitely some considerations related to choosing the appropriate wok for your cooking surface (flat bottom vs. round, etc), and Grace's books (Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge / The Breath of a Wok) are inspiring references for everything you need to know. There's a bit of a learning curve, but once you're going it's a fascinating cooking vessel with its own personality and temperament. My wok has certainly impacted some of my favorite one-pan meals for the better. I think my wok set me back just $15, but it's the sort of thing that a year or two (or ten) from now, it will evolve into something priceless. I have to tell you, one of my favorite things is when Grace posts photos to her Twitter stream of people holding their woks - many have made long journeys, provided a lifetime of meals, been passed down from generation to generation. Look at this photo of Florence Lin with her wok from the 60s. That's what I mean when I say my wok has aspirations. Thank you Grace, and I look forward to many more wok meals together. xo-h

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Sunchoke and Cashew Stir-fry

I'm still getting my head around which oils I prefer to use for stir-frying, but have had good results with Spectrum sunflower and peanut oils - Although they're both refined to allow for the high temps encountered in stir-fry, but my sense is that they start with good organic ingredients, and use natural refining techniques. Some of the other fats/oils I like to use in relation to high-temp cooking (coconut oil, clarified butter, etc) would definitely lend a not-always-welcome flavor profile to some of these stir-fries.

1 teaspoon peanut or sunflower oil
1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon peanut or sunflower oil, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
3 medium shallots, chopped
1/2 serrano chile pepper, deveined and minced
1 cup very thinly sliced sunchokes, well scrubbed
Kernels from 2 ears of corn
1 1/2 - 2 cups day-old, cooked brown rice
1 egg, beaten (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to taste
1/3 cup toasted almond slices
1/2 cup toasted cashews
fine grain sea salt and pepper, to taste
plenty of chopped fresh basil

Start by making a thin egg pancake/crepe by adding one beaten egg to a hot wok (or well-seasoned skillet) that has been coated with about 1 teaspoon of oil. Carefully tilt the pan so the egg covers the bottom as thinly as possible. Cook until the egg is just set. Flip and cook the other side before removing to a cutting board. Let cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

Now you're ready to stir-fry the rest. Make sure all your ingredients are prepped and at the ready, because this goes fast. Heat your wok (or skillet) over high heat until a drop of water vaporizes in a second or two. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of oil, and add the ginger, garlic, shallots, and chile pepper. Stir-fry 20 or thirty seconds, or until fragrant and softened a bit. Stir in the sunchokes and cook until they take on a hint of color, then add the corn, all the while pushing the ingredients around the pan. If you feel like you need a touch more oil at this point, swirl a bit more in before adding the rice, and stirring well to combine. If you like less separation in your fried rice, you can stir another beaten egg straight into the rice at this point, it's optional though. If added, stir well, letting the egg cook through. Swirl in the soy sauce, and continue to toss the ingredients. Add the egg crepe, almonds, and cashews, then taste and work in more soy sauce if needed (or perhaps a bit of salt and pepper instead). Quickly turn out onto a platter to serve, sprinkled generously with chopped basil.

Serves 2-3 as a main course, more as part of a larger multi-course meal.

Prep time: 10 minutes - Cook time: 3 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

can you share where you ended up buying your wok? Would love to get one next time I am in SF and yours looks so great without overwhelming the rest of the stove. Thanks!

HS: Hi Paige, I purchased it at The (legendary) Wok Shop in San Francisco's Chinatown. If you visit say hi to Tane for me.

Paige

Lovely post, Heidi. I asked for a cast iron wok from Amazon a couple of years ago for Christmas (I am cast iron obsessed) but it doesn't get used as often as it should. Thanks for the commentary on cooking oils, I have not been sure which ones to use!

I've long been considering buying a wok--I became obsessed with Chinese cuisine after reading Fuschia Dunlop's lovely memoir--but, for some reason or another, I put it off, thinking the last thing I needed was another pan. Reading your post, however, has reminded me that there's always room for one more cooking tool in the cupboard, and especially one that, as you describe so beautifully, will have its own story to tell after years of cooking together. I may just head to The Wok Shop this weekend. As always, thanks for the inspiration!

HS: I have to tell you Katy, I was kind of on the same page. I try to keep single-use appliances and cookware to an absolute minimum around here, but the wok is such a special addition, I'm so glad Grace did a bit of hand-holding to get me set up and sorted...

I love to stir fry. A comment on OILS -- coconut oil only has a taste if you get the virgin type. There are those that have been deodorized but still are organic. Usually they are called refined I believe. Tropical Traditions sells one on line called Expeller Pressed Organic Coconut Oil. It has no taste. I use nothing else for my cooking except rarely.

Joyce

As usual this looks amazing! I was wondering if you could post what other cookware you're a fan of. I am trying to build a wedding registry and am so confused by all the coated, non-stick, eco non-stick options. Do you have any advice? Any stores here in SF that you recommend?

HS: Hi E - this definitely warrants its own post. I'm not a fan of sets, and tend recommend buying based on how you actually cook. My pots right now are a mix of modern and vintage, and I've had some of my pots forever. I phased out any non-stick long ago (save for the occasions when we break out the big crepe maker)....I love enameled cast iron for soups/stews/curries, etc, and I have a stainless skillet I use quite a lot, and a cast iron one as well, and a couple saucepans....I'll try to pull together a more cohesive post related to this at some point soon.

Emarie

Wonderful photos of your friend and her Mom. Their wok looks exactly like mine after 30+ years of cooking in it. It is far more precious to me than a diamond would be...no kidding. I love it. I did a lot of reading before I bought mine. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Beverly Jane

Last month, I had my cast iron skillet POP! and split almost across the very middle. I miss that pan! I got it about the same time I started dating the man who is my husband. I thought I would have it when I was old and grey, but it died horribly. Not sure what I did to make it crack at just 25 years old. I think a cast iron wok would be a wonderful addition!

HS: Polly, that is heart-breaking! Grace did warn me to be mindful of my wok, that they can shatter if dropped or banged against something too hard.

Polly464

Hi Heidi - Have you seen the movie, 'The Red Violin'? I love the idea of inanimate objects moving through time, passing from hand to hand, evolving into vessels of story - your post took me right there. What a nice way to begin my day - thanks :) + Looking forward to trying this fried rice. I love sunchokes and don't cook with them nearly enough.

For some reason, woks have always intimidated me - I don't understand what is desirable vs undesirable, etc. This is very helpful - maybe now I can finally buy one!

It is so true about cooking in a cast iron skillet. We use our smallest one to make Apple Crisp (or whatever is in season) on the grill when we cook out. Much cooler than using the oven! Thanks for sharing such a fun story and great recipe.

Oh my! I love cooking with cast iron too - but I hope you don't go posting lots of stir-fry wok recipes, because I'll be too tempted buy myself a nice wok.

Oh my! I love cooking with cast iron too - but I hope you don't go posting lots of stir-fry wok recipes, because I'll be too tempted buy myself a nice wok.

Have used peanut oil but have become a big fan of grapeseed oil for high temp frying. This looks yummy - never see sunchokes in Ohio.

Harriet

I will be making this! Bought sunchokes last year at the farmers market and never could figure out what to do with them, now I have a recipe! also, is this your kitchen? i have been endlessly searching for photos of your kitchen because I love the white and light in all of your photos! have you posted any full pics? would love to see for inspiration! Thanks!

HS: HI Elizabeth - I'm not sure off hand if there are any full-on shots of the entire kitchen. I promise to post a couple at some point.

What a nice story to go along with your recipe. It seems like you meet so many awesome people through your love of food. I have a dream of learning about food from different cultures. Somehow, I have never seen sunchokes. What are they like? Any recommendations for a substitute?

HS: Hey Monica! They are sometimes named Jerusalem artichokes....you can swap them out for another veg if you have a hard time finding them though...

Monica

intriguing recipe, and lovely story. where are the shallow bowls from? they're beautiful.

HS: Hi meliSsa: I think, if you're referring to the ones with the unglazed band at the bottom, they are.....- shoot - I'm actually not sure. I think I picked them up at The General Store in SF.

meliSsa

Nice! Heidi, do you ever use grape seed oil for this kind of thing?

Karen

I loved this post Heidi. It was a great read. I don't know much about stir fry myself. I'd love to invest in a wok someday but need to learn a little more. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Looks like a great stir fry. I especially love that first photo. Is it me, or are you super organized? And I kind of want to climb in your kitchen...or maybe just be a fly on the wall ;)

HS: I had to be on point! Grace Young was coming to lunch. And even if I'm still a bit of an awkward wokker, I knew I could do impeccable mise en place ;)

I do most of my cooking with cast iron, and would love to have a wok like yours! It's got a beautiful shape and you'll enjoy using it forever.

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