Quick, easy and tasty: Try this ginger onion stir fry with a Japanese twist

·5-min read
Try this ginger onion stir fry with a Japanese twist thanks to the use of mirin and white sesame seeds. – Pictures by CK Lim
Try this ginger onion stir fry with a Japanese twist thanks to the use of mirin and white sesame seeds. – Pictures by CK Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 – Half a month into the New Year and I’m beginning to detect a pattern of sorts in my kitchen. Not sloth, not exactly, but a certain predilection for simpler recipes compared to times before, when I could be counted on to roast whole chickens or bake cakes from scratch.

These days, I prefer recipes that are quick and easy, without sacrificing any of the taste. Consider it my New Year’s resolution. A worthy one, if it saves me time slaving away in the kitchen and helps calm my nerves.

One way to reduce the prep and cooking time, I find, is to marinate your main ingredient – be it meat or fish, beans or even tofu – well ahead. Let the idle hours in the fridge do most of the work of making sure your final dish is packed with flavours.

I have a few dependable staples in my marinade repertoire – soy sauce; nam pla, that pungent Thai fish sauce; the sweet, umami-rich flavour of miso, that Japanese paste made from soybeans that have been fermented with salt and koji; as well as the Chinese seasoning trinity of oyster sauce, sesame oil and Shaoxing rice wine – that I never do without.

These work on their own or in unison (perhaps two or three together), and will tenderise even the tougher cuts of meat, given enough time to soak all the protein-breaking enzymes, or give a much needed shot of flavour to blander ingredients such as halloumi.

For freshness, a spritz of lemon or lime juice (the acids in citrus fruits help further break down any tough proteins ahead of cooking, thereby cutting down the time spent at the stove). And to top it off, some aromatics such as garlic or fried shallots.

This recipe is a great way of using up all the extra ginger you have lying around in your pantry.
This recipe is a great way of using up all the extra ginger you have lying around in your pantry.

But even with this formula guaranteeing the Quick, the Easy and the Tasty, I fear getting stuck in a rut. Some weekends, then, are made for experiments in the kitchen, for raiding your pantry and grabbing the lesser used items.

Which is how I came about this ginger onion stir fry. Given a choice, I would rather use garlic and shallots, so much so that I fear I am becoming predictable.

Ginger typically ends up in a mug of hot water with lemon and honey, to ward off the cold on rainy days. Onions are indispensable for a pot of ABC soup, both for the flavour and to balance the meatiness of the spare ribs.

But I find little use for them otherwise. Till now.

The white sesame seeds lend a delicate nutty aroma.
The white sesame seeds lend a delicate nutty aroma.

Ginger juice and paste (the mashed up fibres) make for a great marinade, I realise, especially with a dash of mirin, that sweet Japanese rice wine. Scatter some white sesame seeds – these lend a delicate nutty aroma – to finish and you have a speedy stir fry with a gentle Japanese touch.

The formula can remain the same; we just need to switch things up a little whenever we get bored.

We can then pat ourselves on the back for being a home cook who is both efficient and inventive at the same time. (Well, someone has to.)

GINGER ONION STIR FRY WITH SESAME SEEDS

This recipe is a great way of using up all the extra ginger you have lying around in your pantry. The onions you keep putting off using, too.

You’d want big or yellow onions for this recipe rather than red ones or shallots.
You’d want big or yellow onions for this recipe rather than red ones or shallots.

Do note that you’d want big or yellow onions for this recipe rather than red ones or shallots; the latter can be too sharp. You want this dish to be sweet and savoury rather than acidic.

Here, I have used pork shoulder as a nod to the inspiration for this dish – buta no shogoyaki. In Japan, beef is sometimes also used but pork is the default protein here, so much so that shogoyaki alone (shoga meaning pork and yaki, frying or grilling) generally refers to the pork version.

Given this isn’t authentic shogoyaki (I’ve omitted sake in the marinade and included sesame oil, to amp up the nutty flavour), any protein of choice – pork, beef, chicken or even vegetarian/vegan options such as firm tofu or tempeh – will work.

Slicing them thinly (but not so thinly that they fall apart in the wok) will speed up both the marinating and cooking time.

If you don’t have any white sesame seeds handy, you could replace them with black sesame seeds in a pinch. I wouldn’t, if only because I associate black sesame seeds with Cantonese tong sui such as zi ma wu (black sesame soup).

Also, white sesame seeds look prettier in this instance, like a dusting of snow during wintertime in Hokkaido.

Serve this stir fry with some Japanese style greens or salad on the side.
Serve this stir fry with some Japanese style greens or salad on the side.

Besides hot and fluffy steamed rice (a must!), consider serving this stir fry with some Japanese style vegetables or salad on the side, such as some goma-ae or Japanese sesame salad. We have to get our greens in our diet somehow, right?

Ingredients

1 medium-sized nub of fresh ginger, grated (retain both juice and fibres)

3 tablespoons mirin

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon sugar

500g pork shoulder or belly, thinly sliced (other meat or firm tofu will work too)

Neutral cooking oil

½ medium yellow onion, sliced

Lightly toasted white sesame seeds, for garnishing

Method

Add the grated ginger, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar to a large mixing bowl. Stir well to combine.

Next add the sliced pork, stirring again so every piece of meat is covered with the marinade. Cover with cling wrap or an upturned plate and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least one hour.

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the slices of marinated pork, reserving the marinade liquid. Stir fry briefly to allow the meat to brown slightly.

Once the pork has some colour, add the sliced onions and reserved marinade liquid. Cover and allow to simmer on medium heat for about five minutes so that everything is fully cooked.

Finally remove the cover and turn the heat up to high again, to reduce the sauce to your preferred consistency. Remove from heat and plate. Garnish with white sesame seeds and serve immediately.

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