23 June 2011

Hunan beef with chillies and cumin

Cumin's not a spice that seems to pop up in much Chinese food. Hunan province, though, is on a similar latitude to northern India and Pakistan so maybe climate conditions are right there for cumin cultivation. Anyhow, in this dish cumin is combined with the familiar combo of chilli (lots of chilli), garlic, ginger, spring onion and a little soy sauce and sesame oil to make a wicked flavour in which the beef sits. I used minced beef which came out a touch fatty.

  • beef
  • fresh mild chillies and/or peppers of some kind
  • garlic, ginger, cumin, soy sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, cornflour, chilli flakes, salted chilli
  • spring onions

Take you beef and get into manageable pieces. Next time I will use some proper meat but this time I had some cheap mince. Marinate it in Shaoxing wine and soy sauce whilst you prep the vegetables. The green Turkish peppers/chillies (bit unclear exactly what the are!) shown above are perfect. They are spicy at the business end near the stalk but also have a good crunch and flavour akin to capsicum. Otherwise I would suggest a mix of big mild chillies and some peppers. Chop into smallish rings. Chop the spring onions and prep the garlic and ginger into matchsticks.

Brown the beef and set aside.

Fry the garlic, ginger and cumin in some oil. I suggest using these three things in equal measure. Sprinkle with chilli flakes. After a couple of minutes add the chillies or other vegetables. After another couple add the spring onions and meat and cook for a few minutes. Stir in a little thickening agent stabilised with some water. I use cornflour but there are a few options out there. Continue cooking everything together for a few minutes and season to taste with soy sauce and sesame oil. Add salted chillies if you want more heat.

 I used up a little cabbage here but I'm not sure it added much

The taste was  great. The cumin contributes a pleasing mustiness but does not dominate. I recommend having plenty of vegetables here, even up to two-thirds of the overall mass of food. I don't know if I added too much oil or it was the beef itself which was fatty but the food ended up being a bit greasy.

I adapted the recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook which details the food of Hunan province as her previous book Land of Plenty address that of Szechuan (or Sichuan). I like the book - it's a larger hard-backed book with more pictures that LOP. It has a pretty clear layout (essential) and the pictures are of the food and not of the cook messing around and laughing like in some books. Some of the dishes resemble their Szechuan cousins, whilst most involve different combinations of spices and procedures. Like its predecessor it gives an overall picture of a comprehensive cuisine with its own traditions, history, combinations and quirks.


  1. Food is neat! This food is no exception... Thanks, and cheers from Reddit!