“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” – Emma Watson
In life, we have 2 choices we can let our weaknesses and challenges make or we can let them break us.
I had a friend who was very dear to me. I watched her go through the lowest of times and some of her happiest moments. We lived and served together on my LDS mission for a few months. Throughout that time she battled a lot of significant health issues – gall bladder surgery, depression, anxiety, headaches, migraines, insomnia. I never realized how lucky I was just to be healthy – until I met her. Its amazing to realize the limitation and pains that from illness and disease. Seeing her in so much pain, I promised myself I would always look out for her even after the mission. Especially as a future doctor.
But when I came home, life just got busy. I became so caught up with school, balancing time with friends, adapting back to normal life and so on.
About a month ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and found out that she went into a coma. That news shocked me.
I found out that the side effects of her medication caused her to fall in a coma. She started having breathing problems and had to use a breathing machine. She talked about how the doctors had to bind her hands down to stop her from accidentally pulling her breathing tube out, which almost killed her if her mum hadn’t woken up in time.
I was able to finally meet up with her a couple of days ago. It was the first time I had seen her since her coma. She had recovered a lot, but still she struggles to do simple things like walking or moving. Her dad even found her almost unconscious at home from “over-exerting herself” (from cleaning her room and helping around the house).
The pain and fear in her voice came through as she talked about her experience of not being able to breathe or even to eat properly. She expressed her worries of other major issues going on her with life.
WOW. How was it possible that someone could go through so much? I felt weak, as an overwhelming sense of sympathy, empathy and even sadness embraced me. My heart was full of regret as I reflected back on my personal struggles and worries that paled in comparison to hers.
Throughout our conversation, she showed courage, optimism and even strength. Her feelings and thoughts were very real – and very candid, but never once did she complain. All she kept telling me was the small little miracles that helped her recover! It was a miracle. But to me the real miracle was her – that unyielding strength to continue living, hoping, smiling through it all.
Now Black pepper beef. What does Black Pepper Beef have anything to do with this?
During the time I lived with her, whenever she was feeling sick, I would always cook for her – pork chop rice, fried rice, udon noodles, curry – anything I thought she would like. I had no experience and at that time I was far from being interested in being a doctor. I honestly didn’t know what I could do to help her. But somehow home-cooked food would always brighten her day. At least, her optimism and her ability to be grateful for small things always made me feel like I was doing something to help her.
She loved Chinese food, and she always loved loved it when I made something different for her. To her, it was the simple fact I had done it for her that made all the difference. Maybe the real healing didn’t come from the medication or the food, but the thought and effort behind it all. I guess that really is the real gift from home-cooking.
Although, I was never able to make this dish for her. But I know she would have loved it. This dish was everything she loved – simple, flavorful and spicy. Black Pepper also has great health benefits, mainly in aiding digestion. It reduces inflammation, constipation, stomach irritation and gas production. I have to make it sometime for her, because its oh-so-delicious and because it would mean the world to her.
Its funny how dishes make you think of someone. And this recipe is for her.
To one of the strongest and most amazing girl I know.
Adapted from Norecipes
Ingredients – serves 4
- 18 oz/500g Beef chuck steak, cut into 1/2″ cubes
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 Green Bell pepper
- 1/2 large onion, cut into 1/2″ squares
- 2 tsp GF Soy Sauce
- 2 tsp cornstarch/potato starch
- 1 tsp bicarbonate soda – do not skip!
- 2 tbsp Oyster Sauce
- 2 tsp Whole Black Peppercorn
How to Make:
- Place black peppercorns into a ziplock bag and pound with a rolling pin to crush into pieces – you want it coarse, not finely grounded. Alternatively, you could do this in a mortar and pestle.
- Marinate your beef in soy sauce, oyster sauce, 3/4 amount of the crushed black peppercorns, bicarbonate soda and cornstarch. Set aside for 15 minutes.
- Heat a non skillet over high heat. Once the skillet is hot turn the flame down to a medium high and add in your beef (not the marinade). You want to sear the beef so all the sides are just brown but the inside still pink and raw (it is important that your beef is still raw, or else it will be overcooked later). Remove the beef immediately.
- Now in the same pan (with all your beef juices), add in your garlic, onion and bell peppers. Stir-fry until the onions and bell peppers are cooked and soft, but still slightly crunchy. This will take a couple minutes.
- Mix in the remaining marinade. Then add in the beef. Mix everything together.
- Important: At this stage, if you are serving it immediately you want to make sure your beef is cooked through or at least cooked to your liking. If you are planning to serve and reheat it for later. Immediately take out beef. When you reheat the stir-fry, you will continue to cook the beef so at that point you can cook it further till you like it. You want to avoid overcooking and getting very tough cubes of beef.
- Transfer to a plate and garnish with remaining black pepper.
How to Serve
Traditional Method: This is a very popular American-Chinese dish. It originates from the Southern China, in Guangdong Province (VERY NEAR HONG KONG!). We call it 黑胡椒牛柳. As you can see from the ingredients list, it is very simple -the most important key ingredients are the beef and pepper. Long green chili pepper can be used instead of green bell pepper. But it has been adapted so that people who can’t tolerate spiciness can have this dish too. FIY know this – this is meant to be a HOT dish. I find that Black pepper imparts a very different kind of spiciness than Chili pepper.
Black pepper is a spice that originates from a plant found in Asia (India, Vietnam). It is actually a berry (I KNOW RIGHT?) that is sun-dried. It is mildly spicy and has a wonderful earthy-musky aroma. Some types of black pepper will even impart hints of woody or citrus tones that add to its wonderful scent.
This is a home cooked dish that is served with rice and other side dishes. It is especially great for winter or colder weathers because of the heat of this dish. Southern China doesn’t experience very cold weathers, and so it is rare to find really spicy dishes like you would in the northern parts of China. It is also rare to find dishes that uses black pepper instead of white pepper – which makes this dish very unique!
Our Suggestion: The key to making good pepper beef is really how you cook your beef and vegetables. First of all, you need a wok OR in our case a really really hot skillet. The beef CANNOT BE overcooked and must be done perfectly. This will require experience and a good control of your flame. Everyone’s kitchen is different and so the time specified may need adjusting. This is best served fresh and warm.
You need to also use WHOLE black peppercorns, instead of ground black pepper because the freshly grounded black pepper is so much more pungent and fresh.(Also fun fact: Whole black peppercorns have a longer shelf-life, but ground black pepper really only stays fresh for a couple months!). It is also the star ingredient of this dish so you really don’t want to skimp! (we went out to buy it just for this dish!)
ADDITIONAL SECRET: the bicarbonate or baking soda is the secret hidden ingredient to make this beef tender. It is often used in Chinese cooking and we would recommend not skipping this part at all!
Like any stir fry dish – make this one portion at a time. It is much harder to distribute the flavors and heat evenly throughout the mixture if your pan is crowded with too much ingredients. I have made this mistake before and it doesn’t taste the same!
What Beef to use: You can use any cut you like really. The key to making good black pepper beef is not the cut you use, but how you cook this. We had friends ask if we brought expensive meat for this, but truth is – we brought the cheapest cut we could find! If you follow the instructions above, and don’t overcook your beef your beef should still taste amazing. Just make sure the pieces aren’t too big or too small and control your flame.
Onions: If you don’t like onions you can skip this step. Great alternatives are spring onions (it is less pungent) or even shallots.
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