This week, Summer made its presence felt here in Toowoomba. It’s not a time for experiments in the kitchen-well, not unless you’re tough (I’m not) or you have air-conditioning in yours (I don’t). But having gone silly at the market on Sunday, I had to do something with those pumpkin leaves, which were starting to wilt in a sad way. A quick rummage in the fridge and freezer and I was ready to go – beef and pumpkin leaf stir fry, with lemongrass and ginger.

I can’t remember the last time I cooked something with such trepidation. I think you’ll know what I mean, if you’ve ever handled pumpkin stems or leaves. They are really somewhat (ok-VERY) prickly and tough. I had doubts about it all throughout prep and even right until I’d finished cooking. This is what a bit of pumpkin leaf and its prickly stem look like:

You get an uncomfortable tickle in your throat just looking at it, right? Right?

 As I washed and cut them, I couldn’t help but think -I can’t believe I’m going to EAT this! And-I can’t believe how these leaves smell…pumpkin-y…!

The other bit of prep involved preparing the lemongrass, ginger and garlic. This is what lemongrass looks like, if you’ve not seen it before. (Or if you have, here’s your chance to see it in a pseudo-arty shot…)

I trimmed the roots off, and cut them into 2-3 cm pieces, skinned and sliced some ginger and garlic.

Into the food processor they went. Lemongrass and ginger first, as these are rather fibrous. Then in with the garlic. Process until quite fine.

Once my lemongrass mix was ready, I tipped it into hot wok and cooked until just lightly browned. I stir fried the beef strips in batches til brown, then cooked the pumpkin stems followed by the leaves. I put the beef back into the wok with the lemongrass mix, and stirred together with the pumpkin leaves. Voila!

Actually it wasn’t quite voila, because right even before I stirred the leaves and the beef together, I wondered if I should serve them separately in case the leaves spoil the beef dish. But I swallowed my doubts and threw them in together.

So-what was it like? Well, stems were nice and crunchy and not at all prickly! I found that they were much like any other Chinese green leafy vegetable, except that the stems had a nice, firm bite to them. If you’d like to try this recipe but cannot find pumpkin leaves, I think bok choy would make a good substitute.

Lemongrass, ginger and beef stir fry with pumpkin leaves

Serves 6-8 (or 4 hungry Smiths)

Ingredients:

1kg beef rump, thinly sliced

1 bunch pumpkin leaves (or 2 bundles of bok choy)

1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed and chopped

1 4cm piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled

4 tbs fish sauce

2 tbs chilli paste, or to taste (optional)

vegetable oil for stir frying

Method:

1. Marinate beef in 3tbs fish sauce for a minimum of 10 mins

2. Wash and trim pumpkin leaves or bok choy

3. Process lemongrass and ginger until fine, then add garlic and process again briefly

4. Heat oil in wok over medium heat, then add lemongrass mix and fry until lightly browned and fragrant. Remove and set aside

5. Heat oil in wok over high heat, then brown the beef in 3-4 batches. Remove and set aside

6. Toss the pumpkin or bok choy stems into the wok, stirring. The pumpkin stems need some 5 mins before the leaves are added. Bok choy will only need about 2 minutes before adding leaves. Stir until the leaves have wilted and turned dark green.

7. Return the beef and lemongrass mix to the work, mixing with the greens. Add the last tbs of fish sauce and the chilli paste, if you’re using it.

8. Serve with rice.

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