Cravings often come on hard and fast. Sometimes you don’t even know where they came from. I know right where last week’s craving for mu shu pork came from, though; I opened my bag of extras from the Los Poblanos CSA and spotted the package of Leona’s tortillas from Chimayo, NM. Something about their nonuniform shape, their size and color, reminded me of handmade mu shu wrappers I have eaten in the past (though mu shu wrappers are usually thinner). All of a sudden, I needed mu shu pork, stat.
I turned to an old favorite cookbook, A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens by Nina Simonds. It’s a great resource for everyday Chinese cooking – healthful, tasty, and not dependent on hard-to-find ingredients. Her recipes for garlic beef with broccoli and roasted Chinese chicken wings have been standbys for years, even if the latter tends to fill the house with smoke. (It’s worth it.)
This mu shu recipe is a great starting point, full of flavor. But with just pork, cabbage, and mushrooms in the filling, it’s awfully… brown. Mu shu pork is a family-style, roll-it-yourself deal. You’re just going to slap that bowl of filling down on the table. In that case, I think it needs more eye appeal. So I added carrots and red bell pepper for a pop of color.
This is not a difficult recipe by any means, but it does ask you to do a lot of cutting. I highly recommend shortcuts here. Feel free to replace the sliced Napa cabbage and carrots with bagged cole slaw mix (or, for a different flavor, broccoli slaw mix, though use a bit less because it cooks down less in the pan). You could also save time by replacing the reconstituted dried mushrooms with shiitake or button mushrooms, even pre-sliced if you want. Do try to keep things sliced in something resembling long strips, but don’t sweat it.
I have made other changes in the recipe to arrive at a higher proportion of vegetables to meat than the original, with a slightly thicker sauce. (In fact, it could easily become a vegetarian meal by replacing the pork with seitan or tofu, or just leaving it out altogether.) The seasonings and spirit, however, are unchanged. Mu shu is a delicious, convivial, assemble-at-the-table that invites good times. It’s pretty filling, too, requiring nothing more than a small salad or a bowl of canned Mandarin oranges to make a satisfying meal.
Mu Shu Pork
Serves 4 to 6
8-10 Chinese dried black mushrooms (or dried shiitakes), or 8 oz fresh mushrooms
12 oz thinly sliced boneless pork loin chops (cutlets) or other boneless pork
6 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
5 tablespoons sake, rice wine, or sherry, divided
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, plus more for brushing tortillas (if desired)
4 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
3 tablespoons peanut, canola, or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 small Napa cabbage, shredded
1 teaspoon sugar
several grinds of black pepper
1 thin flour tortillas or mu shu wrappers (available in Asian markets)
Jarred hoisin sauce, for serving (available in large supermarkets or Asian markets)
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 20-30 minutes until soft, slice off and discard stems, then slice thinly and set aside. (Or just slice fresh mushrooms.)
Slice the pork across the grain into 1/4-inch strips. Mix with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons sake, sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Set aside in the refrigerator while you prep the other ingredients.
Stir together 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons sake, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and sugar and black pepper. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add pork and saute until it changes color and is mostly cooked through. Remove from skillet. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and let heat a minute. Add onions, carrots, and bell pepper and saute 5 minutes, until the onion starts to get limp. Add garlic and ginger and cook 30 seconds. Add cabbage and cook, stirring, until limp.
Return pork to pan and stir in the soy-sauce mixture. Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens slightly and everything is nice and hot.
Brush tortillas or mu shu wrappers with toasted sesame oil, if desired. Cover with a damp towel and heat in microwave 2 to 4 minutes, or until steaming hot. Scoop the pork filling into a pretty serving bowl, and place on the table with the wrappers and hoisin sauce. Each diner should take a wrapper, smear it with sauce, pile it with filling, and eat!