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Spicy Stir-Fried Cumin Beef

Serves: Makes 4 servings


  • 1 pound sirloin tips, trimmed
  • 3½ tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 12 dried red chilies (such as arbol or japones), stemmed
  • 1½ tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted
  • 5 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 teaspoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1½ cups coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems


Once cooking begins, things move along quickly, so have all ingredients prepared and a serving platter nearby. Toasted cumin seeds added both earthy flavor and crunchy texture. Breaking some of the chilies in half released the seeds, giving the dish assertive spice; leave the chilies whole for a milder version. We also loved this dish made with 1½ pounds of lamb leg or shoulder, trimmed and thinly sliced (freeze the lamb for about 30 minutes before slicing). The chili pods are edible, but we ate around them. Serve with steamed white rice.

Don’t make this dish in a tight space. Toasting the chilies and searing the meat produced a fair amount of smoke and fumes. Turn your hood vent to high before beginning, or open a window or two.

Cut the meat into 2-inch pieces, then thinly slice each piece against the grain. In a medium bowl, combine the beef, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and the black pepper. Stir to evenly coat. Set aside at room temperature. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2½ tablespoons soy sauce, the vinegar and sugar

Meanwhile, break open about half of the chilies, then transfer all of them to a wok. Toast over medium, pressing the pods against the wok, until fragrant and darkened in spots, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add the cumin. In a small bowl, stir together the garlic and 2 teaspoons of the oil to form a paste.

Heat a wok over medium-high until a drop of water evaporates within 1 to 2 seconds of contact, about 3 minutes. Swirl 2 teaspoons of the remaining oil in the wok, add the onion, then stir-fry using a metal spatula until charred in spots and partially softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the cumin seeds and chilies.

Return the wok to high, add 1 teaspoon of grapeseed oil, then arrange half of the beef in a single layer on the bottom and up the sides of the wok. Cook, undisturbed, until deeply browned on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir, scraping the bottom and sides, and cook until no pink remains, 60 to 90 seconds. Transfer to the bowl with the onion. Repeat with the remaining oil and beef.

In the wok over medium-high, cook the garlic paste, mashing the mixture, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beef, onion, chilies and cumin. Stir the soy sauce-vinegar mixture and pour in a thin stream along the sides of the wok. Stir-fry, scraping up any browned bits, until the liquid is thickened, about 1 minute. Off heat, stir in the sesame oil and cilantro.

by Christopher Kimball

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