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Kitchen Witch - Wok much?

Aromatic vegetarian fried rice

Seriously, though; my only question about being a new wok owner is this: What took me so long to own one? Wok, baby, where have you been all my life? (To be clear, I'm talking about a cast-iron or carbon-steel wok from China, available at Asian groceries or a Chinatown nearest you, not the Americanized nonstick variety.)

For the first time, I can see with my own eyes the speed with which the wok heats, the key to the mythical lightning velocity of stir-fry cookery. For years, I used a skillet, which was better than adequate, and nobody complained. Not until Wok arrived did I begin to understand that I had been living in skillet denial, under a cloud of oil that never had enough room to dance, eliminating any chance of bringing wok hay (breath) to my food.

Even a dish as simple as fried rice (detailed below) becomes Other — aromatic, multilayered and totally satisfying. Alchemy is more like it.

From The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 teaspoons sesame oil

2 large eggs, beaten

1/3 cup chopped shallots

2 tablespoons minced, mild fresh chilies

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup diced carrots (substitute: chopped fresh green beans)

4 cups cold cooked rice

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced celery (substitute: chopped bok choy)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact.

Swirl in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and the eggs. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, tilting wok so that the eggs cover the surface as thinly as possible to make a pancake. When bottom is just beginning to brown and egg is just set, flip and allow to set on other side, about 5 seconds. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into shreds.

Add remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil, followed by shallots, chilies and garlic, and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Add carrots (or substitute), reduce to medium heat and stir-fry 2-3 minutes until shallots soften.

Add rice, bell pepper, celery (or substitute), soy sauce, salt and pepper. Increases heat to medium-high and cook 2-3 minutes more, breaking up rice with a metal spatula until heated through. Add egg and stir to combine.

Remove wok from heat. Stir in cilantro and drizzle sesame oil.

Note: You may make this dish without eggs. If so, eliminate the teaspoon of sesame oil at the beginning of the recipe, and proceed with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Makes 2-3 entree-sized servings.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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