File this under "Dishes I Make All the Time But Never Write About." It's a great quick dinner to make when I find a surprise bunch of celery in our farmshare, not to mention all the great tomatoes this time of year.
Beef and celery complement each other very well, but what makes this stir-fry awesome is the fish sauce. That's the Cambodian influence. Fish sauce (often written as nam pla or nuoc mam on the bottle) is a southeast Asian condiment made from pressed fermented anchovies and used like you would soy sauce. Brands include Three Crabs, Golden Boy, and Squid (though no squid, crabs, or little boys are contained therein—that we know of).
A word to the wise: do not smell the fish sauce. If you do, there's little chance you'll willingly pour it all over your food. It smells awful. But somehow its pungent brininess adds amazing depth of flavor to meat and vegetables, and the resulting garlicky tomato broth is fantastic soaked into rice. Leftovers are even better the next day. If you do smell the fish sauce—and don't say I didn't warn you—you can always change your mind and sub in soy sauce instead (omit the sugar listed in the recipe in that case).
That's the beauty of stir-fries. Just use what you like. Don't care for celery? Sub in bok choy or broccoli instead. You're getting at least one of those in your farmshare, I just know it!
Beef and Celery Stir-Fry
Don't throw away those celery leaves—they wilt down deliciously! Farm celery stalks are often skinnier than supermarket celery, which means you should cut the pieces larger than indicated to keep the cooking time the same.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 to 8 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
1 lb. boneless sirloin, cut into 1/4-inch thick strips about 2 x 1.5-inches in size
3/4 lb. celery stalks, leaves included, sliced on the diagonal about 1/2-inch thick
3-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound tomatoes, cored, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and stir-fry the garlic cloves for 10 to 20 seconds until starting to brown. Add the beef and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add the celery, and cook for about 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Stir in the fish sauce, sugar, and salt, and then fold in the tomatoes. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring, until the beef is cooked through and the celery is crisp-tender. Season with black pepper to taste, and serve with rice.
Source: Adapted from the Elephant Walk Cookbook by Longteine de Monteiro and Katherine Neustadt
Beef: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA
Celery, tomatoes: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
Garlic: Our school garden, Waltham, MA