"Dongbei cai is the food of Northeast China. Weiliang Chen, the chef at Northeast Taste Chinese Food, the biggest of the Dongbei restaurants in Queens, makes an elegant, tender version of a popular Dongbei stir-fry of lamb with dried chilies, made fragrant and crunchy with cumin seeds — a legacy of the nomadic Mongols who long ruled Central Asia, carrying spices on horseback along with their arrows. Lamb is considered a Northern taste and excessively “strong” by many Chinese cooks; it is always cooked with powerful aromatics, like chili peppers and garlic, to subdue it."
The restaurant is in Flushing, Queens, where I live for part of the year. I like the Cumin Lamb at the Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan that is also very spicy. A word about the comment that lamb is considered a "Northern" taste: in Chinese medicine, lamb is considered "sweet" in taste, and "hot" in temperature. It is therefore made in the winter months because of its ability to tonify Qi, Blood, and Yang, and to expel Cold. In Northern China, it is typically made into a stew with just a few hot and spicy herbs to counter its strong flavor; in Southern China it is typically braised with more herbs.
Why am I recommending this dish in the height of summer, during the middle of a heat wave? Because it is spicy, it will make you sweat - and sweating will cool you down. Although it is logical to try to beat the heat with cold food and drink try eating a small amount of spicy food for dinner and see if you feel better. A glass of cold beer would seem the perfect match (for me) but ice tea or sparkling water would be great as well if you are so inclined. Watermelon is the perfect desert,
Crispy Lamb With Cumin, Scallions and Red Chiles
- 1 tablespoon egg white
- 1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound boneless leg of lamb or lamb shoulder, cut into strips about 1/2 inch by 2 inches
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds, lightly cracked in a mortar or grinder
- 2 tablespoons whole dried red chile peppers, about 2 inches long
- 4 scallions, white and green parts only, cut on diagonal into 1-inch lengths
- Sesame oil, for seasoning
- In a bowl combine egg white, wine, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Add lamb and set aside to marinate 1 hour.
- Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Swirl half the oil into wok and carefully add lamb, spreading it in a single layer. Let sear a moment, then stir-fry briskly just until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer to a plate. (If your wok is not large enough to hold all the lamb, do this in 2 batches, using extra oil.)
- Swirl remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil into empty wok, add cumin seeds and chiles and stir-fry a few seconds until cumin seeds start to pop. Press chiles against sides of wok to char their skins.
- Add scallions and stir-fry 1 minute. Then return lamb to wok and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes more until lamb is cooked through. Turn off heat, sprinkle with salt and drops of sesame oil, and serve immediately.