This is based on my friend Ying's recipe. The great thing about this recipe is that it's delicious and wide open to interpretation. If you don't have asparagus, you can substitute anything else! I often make this with pea shoots and/or mustard greens. It seems strange, but we always seem to eat it with rice in spite of whatever your mom might have said about mixing your starches. In any case, this is a recipe that wants to be toyed with, so play around with the ingredients. If you don't like it too spicy, cut down on the hot pepper and szechuan peppercorns (though the peppercorns are not actually that spicy - they have a numbing effect on your tongue. Ying says they use them and prickly ash oil so they can eat spicier food than they would otherwise be able to tolerate). Also, when eating szechuan peppercorns, watch out for the black ones! Some of them seem to be full of a black substance that's unpleasantly gritty on your teeth. I try to pick those out before cooking (or at least before eating). —solmstea
4 (as a main course) or 8 (as a side)
Large Potatoes (russett, yukon gold, something that won't fall apart when frying)
Cloves of Garlic or 1 medium stalk of green garlic
Clean the potatoes and cut them into matchsticks (if you have a mandoline, that will be very helpful here, though it's not too hard to cut them by hand). I like to leave the skins on, but they can be removed if you prefer. Place the matchstick potatoes in a bowl and sprinkle generously with salt (at least 2 tablespoons). The salt will help remove water from the potatoes. Let sit for 15-20 minutes.
In the meantime, cut up the rest of the ingredients.
Once the 15-20 minutes have passed, there should be a puddle of brown water at the bottom of the bowl. Pour this out, rinse the potatoes thoroughly to get most of the salt off and let them drain well.
Pour the oil in a large skillet or wok and heat at medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the garlic and let fry for about 45 seconds, just before it starts to brown. Throw in the potatoes and mix well. Stir frequently to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Stir in the Szechuan peppercorns, hot pepper and asparagus and cook for another 2 minutes. If your asparagus is very thin and young, add it at the next step so that it doesn't get too mushy. The potatoes will remain fairly crisp and it would be nice if the asparagus did too.
Add the vinegar (and asparagus if it's very thin) and cook, covered, for another 5 minutes.
Drizzle the sesame oil over the mix if using and add the green onions also. Then serve!
Other things to try with this: add a tablespoon of cooking sherry or mirin or a squirt of lemon. Instead of crushed red pepper, try Korean red pepper (somehow it just tastes better - you don't have to bite down on any tough seeds). Try other greens or fresh artichoke hearts or cauliflower. So many options!
I like to cook simply, especially cooking with things I can find (or at the very least, find at the farmers market which, in SoCal, contains every kind of produce on earth!). I like ingredients like lambsquarters, which grow in every alley and once-tilled ditch but are overlooked as weeds. Or I like scuba diving for lobster - lobster you catch with your bare hands just tastes Great! Generally, I don't like overly fussy recipes and tend to just improvise with whatever I have on hand and few meals come out of my kitchen without green garlic, cayenne, orange zest, or either fresh mint or dill.