And thank god for that. Working in a vegan organic restaurant three times a week and consuming a wider range of tofu and tempeh products than I ever knew existed, I find myself visited, on occasion, by the sharpest and most intense cravings for red meat. Probably a response to my body's decreased intake of iron, they're impossible to ignore. I experienced such a craving one night last week while trying to figure out what to cook for dinner for me and my roommate. When she called to ask what to pick up at the store, I had to restrain myself from just shouting "MEAT!" into the phone, instead composing myself and asking for a few red bell peppers, some light green, mild Cubanelle peppers, a bag of frozen peas, and a couple of pounds of a quick-cooking cut of beef like sirloin. With these ingredients--plus a bag of onions that I already had--I would make a sort of beef, peppers 'n' onions saute to be served over rice; it's not the type of thing I usually cook, but earlier in the day I had seen a coworker heating up the remains of this kind of dish for her lunch. It smelled really good, and the idea must have stored itself in my head.
When my roommate got home, grocery bags in hand, I got to work. First I sliced the beef into thin strips--I used a long, flat piece of sirloin tip, though something like flank or skirt steak would have worked well, too--and placed it in a bowl of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce to marinate. Then I sliced two red bell peppers into slender strips and did the same with two or three Cubanelle peppers. Small and thin-skinned, Cubanelles have a more mild flavor than green bell peppers, which I have a huge aversion to, especially when cooked. Actually, cooked green bell peppers are just about the only food aversion I have, so that's saying a lot. But I digress. The point is, by using the Cubanelles I was still able to get some variety of texture, flavor and color into this dish without having to use the dreaded green bell pepper. I completed my mise en place with about two large white onions, sliced.
To execute the dish I first drained the meat of its marinade, seasoned it with a little kosher salt and a lot of freshly ground black pepper, then sauteed it in a large pan to near-doneness. I then removed it from the pan, added a little more oil, and fried the onions and peppers, along with three cloves of minced garlic, over medium heat for a good amount of time--you want to get the vegetables soft and caramelized. As they wilted, I seasoned the vegetables with soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Finally, I added back the beef and its accumulated juices as well as a good handful of frozen peas, for some color and sweetness. At this point I needed a little cooking liquid to pull everything together, and, lacking any chicken broth or an open bottle of wine--either of which would work well in this dish--I found myself reaching for the bottle of pale ale that I had been sipping throughout the cooking process. I used about half a bottle of it and it coalesced the flavors wonderfully. After all, what's a more perfect union than beef and beer?
Steak, Pepper 'n' Onion Stirfry
1. Select a 1.5 - 2 lb. cut of quick-cooking beef, such as sirloin tip or flank or skirt steak. Slice the meat against the grain, creating long, thin strips. Place the meat into a large bowl and add equal amounts (about 1/4 cup each) of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, creating a marinade. Stir to combine.
2. Core 2 large red bell peppers and 3 Cubanelle peppers (or substitute 2 large green bell peppers). Slice them into long, thin strips. Halve 2 large white or yellow onions, then slice those, too, into long, thin strips. Mince 3 cloves of garlic. Set the vegetables aside.
3. Drain the beef of its marinade and season it with a little salt and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a large, wide, heavy-bottomed skillet set over medium heat. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until nearly cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the beef from the pan and set it aside.
4. Add a touch more oil to the pan; keep it over medium heat. Add the onions, the garlic and some kosher salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have wilted, about 5-6 minutes. Add the peppers and continue to cook, stirring, until all the vegetables are quite soft and have begun to caramelize, about 10-12 minutes more. Season them with balsamic vinegar and soy sauce to taste; you should be aiming for about a 1/4 cup of each.
5. Add the beef and its accumulated juices back to the pan, along with a handful of frozen green peas. Stir to combine. If some cooking liquid is needed, add some chicken broth, dry white or red wine, or light-bodied beer to the pan, about 1/2 cup. Continue to cook until most liquid has evaporated and a thick sauce has formed, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and serve over long-grain white or brown rice and garnish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.