Bowled Over

“Timid and shy and scared am I, of things beyond my ken,” sings Leisl in The Sound of Music.  I was painfully shy when I was little, and blushed every time I watched the rainy gazebo scene. I blushed even more furiously when I played Leisl to Ricky’s Rolf (Ricky had a crush on me and I despised him for it) at the end-of-the-year pageant in 1985. I was five years old.

Twenty-five years later, “timid” and “shy” are not words I would use to describe myself. I’d say Fräulein Maria lustily singing “I Have Confidence” provides a better illustration. Or maybe the scene where Captain Von Trapp finds Maria plunged into the deepest of curtseys in a ballroom of imagined guests.

Next weekend, my two-sizes-too-small kitchen will become a one-pupil-culinary school. I told my soon-to-be student to cook with confidence and above all, with an aim to pleasing herself. The Michelin inspector isn’t coming to dinner. Cook and eat what you like! And if things don’t turn out, so what? Clean up and give yourself a Do-Over (i.e. a reliable and satiating meal, like pizza with sausage and banana peppers).

Last weekend I was craving soy sauce and sticky rice, so I pulled this recipe together. I didn’t have a final product in mind, but this is what the craving turned into. Good things happen when you go with the flow.

Serves 4 to 6
This would be really good with a fried egg on top. Sriracha can be found in the international or Asian foods aisle at most supermarkets—you’ll recognize it by its tomato-red color and rooster logo. Glutinous rice is short-grained and sticky, but if you can’t find it, use long-grain white rice, such as Carolina, or pick up a few containers at your neighborhood Chinese or Thai restaurant.

For the Rice
2 cups water
1½ cups glutinous or long-grain white rice
¼ teaspoon salt

For the Steak
1½ pounds flank steak
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, grated or minced
1 teaspoon Sriracha
4 teaspoons vegetable oil

For the Vegetables
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch thick slices
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon light or dark brown sugar
4 cups shredded Napa or regular cabbage
2 medium carrots, grated
4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup cilantro leaves
8 ounces enoki mushrooms (optional)
½ cup dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped or crushed

For the Spicy Mayo
½ cup mayonnaise
2 to 3 teaspoons Sriracha
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon light or dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

– Bring water to boil in a medium sauce pan. Add the rice and salt and boil until most of the liquid has evaporated and you can see small bubbles bursting on the surface of the rice. Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Fluff the rice with chopsticks or fork and serve.

– Cut the flank steak lengthwise into 3 long strips. Cut each strip in half crosswise to make 2- to 2.5-inch long steaks. Whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and Sriracha together in a medium bowl.  Add the steaks, making sure they’re evenly submerged in the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour.

– Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Add half of the steaks and cook until deep brown on both sides; 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer steaks to a plate and cover with foil. Repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and steaks.

– Whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar in a small bowl. Add the cucumber slices and toss to coat.

– Whisk together the mayonnaise, Sriracha, soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, sugar, and fish sauce in a small bowl.

To assemble:  Place about ½ cup rice in a deep bowls or soup bowls. Slice the beef and divide evenly among plates. Arrange cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, scallions, cilantro, and mushrooms (if using) around rice and beef. Sprinkle with peanuts and serve with spicy mayo.