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Spicy Food and Riesling

I was raised to be a beer snob. My dad is a home brewer and I have been his bottler since I was six. By the time I was 10, I could recite the history of an IPA and tell anyone why my dad could never make lagers (bottom-fermenting beers need very cold temperatures!). But I know nothing about wine. Red wines are my go-to because I’ve decided my odds of hitting something sweet are lower than if I choose from the white wine list. That’s honestly my only consideration. If it’s not sweet, well, I’ll probably like it; I know nothing else.

Eli, my boyfriend, works in a wine store and tastes new wines each week so he can talk with the customers about what to buy. He has tried to pass along his newfound knowledge to me, but this typically happens while walking through the wine section of Whole Foods. Since this is directly across from the cheese section, my thoughts are always distracted by smelly, cheesy goodness, so my vino smarts are still subpar. Cheese samples beat wine education. Always.

Last week, the wine Eli bought was Reisling. Three bottles of it. When I think something is silly, I do this blank stare. It’s not the most attractive face, but witty responses are not my forte. I’m pretty sure a blank stare followed the Riesling announcement. A long blank stare that was meant to reiterate my distaste of sweet wine.  He then, smartly, said that Riesling pairs great with spicy food, so we should cook an entire spicy meal.

 

There’s something I should tell you now. If you put me in front of a huge, stinky wedge of cheese and a big, ole bag of hatch chilies and told me to choose, I would be sitting there for hours. I’m actually getting anxious thinking about the choice. That’s how much I adore spicy foods.

 

So, the Riesling was in.

I have never inhaled so much okra in one sitting as I did with this recipe. Between the okra, the fried shallots, and the spicy sweetness of the sambal oelek, I’m surprised there were leftovers. I’m actually eyeing my refrigerator right now; it’s almost lunchtime. The flank steak was also delicious, but not as spicy. There was a strange and subtle nutty flavor from the marinade that worked really well with the bell peppers.

And the Riesling? I have to admit that it was really delicious with the food. But I refused to try it before my mouth had a good kick of spice first. Don’t expect any sudden dives into sweet drink exploration. I’m just tiptoeing into the water wine.

Spicy Beef with Peppers
From Epicurious
Serves 4 as main course

1 (1/2-lb) piece flank steak, cut into 2-inch wide strips
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 medium-dry Sherry
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled garlic
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
5 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
3 teaspoons Siracha
1 large red bell pepper, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces

In a bowl large enough to comfortably fit the first 12 ingredients, combine soy sauce, cornstarch, Sherry, garlic, ginger, ¼ teaspoon salt, sugar, and 1-teaspoon oil. Whisk together with a fork. Throw in the steak and toss to coat.

In a small bowl, mix ketchup, hoisin, and Siracha.

Heat wok or large skillet until, as Epicurious writes, “a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact.” Pour 2 teaspoons of oil to coat the pan. Lay the steak in a single layer on the bottom of the pan and let it cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute. Then, stir-fry for another minute until steak is just browned. Move the steak and juices to a plate.

Pour the remaining oil in the pan to coat. Add the peppers, scallions and remaining salt. Stir-fry for 30 seconds, and then add the steak, its juices, and the Siracha mixture. Cook until the sauce thickens, no longer than a minute, and serve.

Spicy Fried Okra with Crispy Shallots
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4, with leftovers

Vegetable oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 pounds okra, sliced in half on a diagonal
3 tablespoons sambal oelek
1/2 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
Salt

Sambal oelek is a ground chile sauce that can be found in the Asian food section of many grocery stores. The original recipe calls for deep-frying the shallots and okra. I opted for a regular sauté affect. Either way you choose will give tasty results; the okra will just cook faster if you deep-fry. These instructions are for sautéing.

Heat 4-5 tablespoons oil in a large skillet and cook shallots until browned, about 2 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Add okra to pan and cook until bright green and softened, about 4 minutes. Pour off oil. Cook the okra without the oil for about a minute longer. Add the sambal oelek and toss to coat. Remove the pan from the heat and salt to taste.

Transfer the okra to a large bowl and top with the fried shallots and red pepper.

Picnic tip: Bringing wine on a picnic makes the meal nicer. A wine carrier keeps the bottle at the perfect temperature and also protects it.

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