Chinese Stir-fried Beef with Cumin

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Cumin is not a typical spice in mainstream Chinese cookery. It carries with it the aroma of the bazaars of Xinjiang in the far north-west of the country, where ethnic Uyghur Muslims sprinkle it over their lamb kebabs and add it to their stews and polos (the local version of pilafs). It is, however, found in spice shops all over China, and non-Uyghur cooks use it from time to time. I came across the original version of this sensational recipe in a restaurant in Hunan called Guchengge, and it became one of the most popular in my Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook.

The only snag with the Guchengge recipe is that it uses the restaurant technique of pre-frying the beef in a wok full of oil. Here, I’ve reworked the recipe as a more simple stir-fry. The texture isn’t quite as silky as in the original version, but it’s much easier to make and still absolutely delicious, as I hope you’ll agree.

Serves: 2


  • 250g trimmed beef steak
  • 1/2 red pepper
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2-4 teaspoons dried chilli flakes, to taste
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced, green parts only
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

For the marinade:

  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour


Cut the beef into thin bite-sized slices. Stir the marinade ingredients with 1 1/2 tablespoons water and mix well into the meat. Trim the peppers and cut them into strips 1-2 cm wide, then diagonally into lozenge-shaped slices.

Add 3 tablespoons of the oil to a seasoned wok over a high flame and swirl it around. Add the beef and stir-fry briskly to separate the slices. When the slices have separated but are still a bit pink, remove them from the wok and set aside.

Return the wok to the flame with the remaining oil. Add the ginger and garlic, and allow them to sizzle for a few seconds to release their fragrances, then tip in the peppers and fresh chilli, if using, and stir-fry until hot and fragrant. Return the beef slices to the wok, give everything a good stir, then add the cumin and dried chillies. When everything is sizzling, fragrant and delicious, add the spring onions and toss briefly. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.

Recipe taken from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop

Fuchsia Dunlop trained as a chef at China’s leading cooking school and is internationally renowned for her delicious recipes and brilliant writing about Chinese food. Every Grain of Rice is inspired by the healthy and vibrant home cooking of southern China, in which meat and fish are enjoyed in moderation, but vegetables play the starring role. Try your hand at blanched choy sum with sizzling oil, Hangzhou broad beans with ham, pock-marked old woman’s bean curd or steamed chicken with shiitake mushrooms, or, if you’ve ever in need of a quick fix, Fuchsia’s emergency late-night noodles. Many of the recipes require few ingredients and are startlingly easy to make. The book includes a comprehensive introduction to the key seasonings and techniques of the Chinese kitchen, as well as the ‘magic ingredients’ that can transform modest vegetarian ingredients into wonderful delicacies. With stunning photography and clear instructions, this is an essential volume for beginners and connoisseurs alike. ‘Delicious and authentic Chinese food made clear, easy and accessible. Brilliant.’ – Jamie Oliver. ‘Fuchsia has a rare ability to convey an encyclopaedic knowledge of Chinese cuisine in a compelling and totally delicious way.’ – Heston Blumenthal.

You can purchase Every Grain of Rice at

Published by Hardie Grant Books.


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