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Hokkaido Beef with Pea Shoots

When I was little, growing up in Japan, my parents sent me to Hokkaido one summer to perfect my Japanese. I stayed with family friends, who lived in a multi-generational household; the grandmas were in charge of the meals. Everything from the miso to the takuan (radish pickles) was homemade, those items lived in big buckets in a special compartment under the floorboard by the sink. Everything was delicious.

Occasionally, there was a meal that was deemed much too foreign for my poor little Gaijin (foreigner) palate -- never mind what I thought -- or something cropped up that I demurred at texturally (no longer a problem these days.) On those occasions, one of the grandmothers would whip this up for me, served over a bowl of steaming rice, sometimes with a raw egg beaten into the dish.

This is incredibly delicious and, despite the fact that I watched them make it more than a few times, it took me years to get it exactly how I remember it.

1/3 pound of ground beef (up from my usual 1/4 pound serving, but still far less than the entire pound that I wanted to make and inhale...)

3.5 package of pea shoots

1 1/2 tsps granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsps corn starch

2 tsps vegetable oil (olive is my go-to so I used that)

2 tsps soy sauce

Measure the oil and sugar into a skillet. Turn the heat on medium and let the sugar melt and caramelize. Swirl the pan from time to time to keep the sugar from burning. You will feel like this takes forever, but it actually should take under a minute. Keep a close eye on this as one minute the sugar is starting to melt and the next it is burnt; you want a mahogany brown.

Add the ground beef to the dish. (You may wish to make this for dinner the night before you wash your kitchen floor as spattering is inevitable.) Stir to combine with the caramel and let cook until the pink is gone from the meat, stirring as little as possible so that the meat caramelizes and crisps up. Stir every few minutes and break up the large pieces as you do.

Sprinkle the cornstarch over the top of the dish and stir to combine. It will immediately thicken whatever pan juices there are.

Add the soy sauce to the pan and stir to combine well with the thickened pan juices. Make sure that all of the meat is coated with the sauce.

Move the meat to the side of the pan and add the pea shoots to the empty space. Swirl the pan so that all of the remaining pan juices trickle over to the pea shoot side. Stir up from the bottom to ensure that all of the pea shoots wilt and become silkily tender.

Put the pea shoots on a dinner plate then top with the beef. To be honest, this is most delicious atop a bowl of rice, but I ate a HUGE lunch, which included rice, so I skipped it this once.


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