Sunday, March 22, 2015

Marinated beef stir-fry with Savoy cabbage and cashews

You couldn’t tell by the recipes you see on this blog of mine, but I have a deep love for Asian cuisines; Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Indonesian. I cook and eat dishes from these countries quite often and I’m not sure why my love for these cuisines is not reflected here. I will try to rectify that, however, and share with you my favorites.

When I was about seventeen, I became obsessed with Chinese food that was not particularly popular or widespread in Greece at that time. I bought cookbooks which were actually among the first cookbooks I have ever purchased, I persuaded my mom to buy me a wok and chopsticks, and my adventure in the kitchen began. Up until that time, I had learned everything about cooking from my family—my mom, my grandmother and grandfather—so this was the first time I was venturing out on my own and exploring other flavors, aromas and way of cooking. It was thrilling!

I was intrigued by the exotic ingredients, those I could find that is, and the unique flavors, and apart from the basic dishes I learned how to cook, like fried rice, stir-fries, noodles and spring rolls, I also taught myself how to eat with chopsticks. I never gave up until I learned how to use them properly, no matter how difficult it was for me, and I remember I ate every kind of food with chopsticks in order to practice. It was hilarious.

I used to invite my friends over for dinner to show off my skills and introduce them to Chinese cooking and they were so impressed. They found it delicious and I was so proud. I guess I have always had that deep-rooted need to feed people and see the satisfaction on their faces.

Then my obsession moved to the subcontinent of India and the intoxicating flavor of spices and herbs that were not so unfamiliar to me since my family’s style of Greek cooking (Politiki cuisine) is very much dependent on similar spices.

When I moved to Holland a few years ago, I discovered even more Asian cuisines, and since there’s a huge Asian community in The Hague, with shops that have everything I could ask for, I began experimenting and learning more about them. My love blossomed as I began discovering the Indonesian cuisine, very widespread here in Holland, as well as the Vietnamese and Malaysian.

I can safely say that I cook at least once a week an Asian or Asian-inspired recipe, and it’s about time I shared some of them here as well. This one is Chinese-inspired and based on the technique of stir-frying.

Beef, very thinly sliced, is marinated in a mixture of fresh, fiery, red chilli peppers, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and Chinese five-spice, and then is added to a piping hot wok and stir-fried. The majestic and beautifully deep green Savoy cabbage, cut into long strips, is added to the pan, along with some cashews and the juices of the marinade, and a few minutes later the dish is served with rice noodles and a good squeeze of lime. The zingy, bright, salty, sweet and spicy flavors blend to create a sumptuous and light dish with various and interesting textures.

Chilli and ginger-marinated beef stir-fry with Savoy cabbage and cashews
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I discovered Savoy cabbage when I moved to the Netherlands; I have never seen it in Greece. You can substitute it with Chinese cabbage or kale if you can’t find Savoy cabbage where you live.

Stir-frying is a method of Chinese cooking where ingredients are fried quickly in very little oil in a hot wok and stirred continuously. To successfully stir-fry, it is crucial that you have your mise-en-place ready so that you don’t need to stop halfway through the cooking and chop or prepare an ingredient.

Use a tender beef cut like fillet, topside or top rump that doesn’t have fat or sinews, cut into thin strips as it will only cook for a few minutes.

Apart from rice noodles, you can also use egg noodles, soba (buckwheat) noodles, or rice.

Yield: 2 servings


for the marinade
1 fresh red chilli pepper, finely sliced (keep seeds if you don’t mind the heat)
1 large garlic clove, mashed or grated
2 tsp grated ginger
2 Tbsp soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1 Tbsp soft dark brown sugar

300 g lean beef (fillet, topside or top rump), cut across the grain into thin strips
50 g unsalted cashew nuts
4 large leaves (about 150 g) Savoy cabbage, central veins cut off
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
Juice from 1-2 limes

100-150 g rice noodles (cooked according to package instructions), to serve with the stir-fry

Special equipment: wok (or deep frying pan), colander


In a medium bowl, add all the ingredients for the marinade and mix well with a spoon. Add the beef strips and mix well to coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes and up to 4 hours. The longer you have time to marinate the beef the better the flavor will be.

Heat your wok over medium heat. Without adding any oil, and once hot, add the cashews. Toast them, stirring frequently so they don’t burn, for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove them from the wok and onto a plate.

Stack the leaves of the cabbage one on top of the other and roll them up. With a large knife cut them into strips and place them inside a colander. Place colander in your sink, boil 1 liter of water in a kettle (or as much water as your kettle holds) and pour it over all over the cabbage to wilt it. Leave to drain.

Cook the noodles at this point, according to the packet instructions, and while they are cooking, heat the sunflower oil in the wok over high heat.

Remove the beef from the marinade, shaking it so the marinade drips off back into the bowl, and place it on paper towels to dry a bit. Reserve the marinade.
Add the beef to the hot wok and stir-fry it for about 2 minutes or until it has browned all over. Add the cabbage and the marinade juices to the wok and stir-fry for further 2-3 minutes. Add the cashews at the last minute.
Squeeze some lime juice on top, give it a taste and add salt if you think it needs it. Take it off the heat.
Plate the noodles and the beef with the cabbage in individual bowls.
Squeeze more lime juice on top if you want and eat straight away!


  1. Miam! Thanks for this nice recipe. I love anything close to asian flavor. xx cathy

  2. I'm a huge fan of Asian flavours too, and loved popping over to China Town when I lived in The Hague. Now that I live in Utrecht I still have no idea where to go to get things like kafir lime leaves or galangal :( (to be fair I haven't tried very hard - yet) This looks delicious! I don't eat beef but the marinade sounds really interesting and I bet would be nice with tofu as well.

    1. Thank you Sophie. It's great that in The Hague I can find every kind (almost) of Asian ingredient I want. It's so refreshing after struggling to find ingredients in Athens. Tofu would be great I think, yes.

  3. This looks absolutely delicious Magda - I love Asian food. Love the story behind it, so wonderful. Hope to try this recipe soon! Xx

  4. I love Asian food and cook it too so I look forward to this new section of your blog: I am sure you will inspire me in many ways!

    1. Thank you so much. I love this type of cooking so much yet I know that people expect from me to post mostly Greek recipes so I hesitate somehow to share Asian dishes.

  5. As you may have seen, I love Asian food too... at least now that I am out of my little home town. This is beautiful, Magda. I think Savoy cabbage is highly underrated and underused. It is nice to have a new marinade different form the ones I usually use!

    1. I love Savoy! I'm a sucker for this type of vegetables!

  6. Light, love, refreshing.
    Just what I was looking for tonight.