We moved to Kunming nearly two years ago. It’s high time I started adding some Yunnan recipes to my repertoire.

So, here’s dish #1. My creation is loosely based on an iron-plank beef dish my family loves here in Kunming. It’s got spicy peppers, cooling mint, and creamy butter. The combination may sound a bit odd, but it’s mm-mm-good!

(Oh. It’s admittedly a little weird-looking when you zoom in this far. It may look a little gnarly, but it smells and tastes delicious.)

Fun fact: In Yunnan, the rule of thumb is “beef always needs mint” whereas in Guangxi, the default was “beef always needs ginger.” I can add that to my list of ways to know I’ve crossed the border.

A couple of notes on these beautiful ingredients:

  • Frozen beef rolls are one of the few types of beef I can count on to NOT be tough. These rolls are great for hot pot, but also do really well in stir-fried dishes. (Unfortunately, I’ve encountered a few brands of beef rolls that have a weirdly soft consistency — almost like that of lunch meat. Stir-fried bologna? Gag. Buyer beware.)
  • I’m using 料酒 in this recipe, which is usually translated as “cooking wine,” but don’t be fooled into thinking you should use Merlot or anything like that. Liaojiu is a rice wine specifically for use in cooking. (The kind I’m using is made with ginger. So, I’m sort of following the Guangxi beef rule after all!)
  • I normally don’t cook with measurements. (Bake, yes. But cooking? Especially cooking Chinese food? No way, Hou Shei.) For the sake of posting this recipe, I measured. But promise you won’t get tied to the numbers, okay? If you think it needs more butter, or you only have half an onion, or want oyster sauce added in, then tweak away!

好的, we are ready to cook!

Chop up the onion and peppers.

The peppers are the only factor that affect the spiciness of this dish, so this is Step One of choose-your-own-adventure cooking. The creaminess of the butter and the cooling taste of mint work really well with some heat in this dish, so I like to have slightly spicy peppers. You can obviously go pretty hot if you’d like. Or, if you (or family members) don’t do spicy, use red bell (sweet) peppers. Yellow or green would also work, but the dish is prettiest with red, IMHO.

Wash the mint leaves. It’s okay for them to be wet. In fact, it will help a bit in the stir-frying process.

Heat oil in a wok or big skillet. Add peppers and onions.

Stir fry until they’re as done as you’d like them. Really high heat (I’m talking flames coming up the sides of the wok) for a short time will give you crisp peppers and onions with a bit of blackening. That sounds delicious to me, but it’s a big no-no for many Chinese chefs. You can turn the heat to just normal high and add in a little bit of water if you prefer softer veggies with no blackening. Give them a light sprinkling of salt as you cook them.

When the pepper and onion are cooked to your liking, dump in the beef rolls. This generates a nice dry-ice smoke effect. Oooooh….


Stir fry until the beef is all cooked, then stir in the sauces: soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and your cooking booze of choice.

Add the butter. It should melt pretty quickly.

Give everything a few good stirs, then taste your creation and adjust the seasoning at this point before you add the mint. It’s choose-your-own-adventure cooking, remember? Tweak your heart out.

When you’re happy with how it tastes, add in the mint leaves and toss them around quickly.

Turn off the heat and stir a few more times. The mint leaves will keep wilting this whole time and that is how it’s supposed to be.

And then? You’re done! Dish it up, and dig in.

And tell me what you think! What did you tweak for your version of this creation?

Yunnan Mint Butter Beef

400-500 g (about 1 lb.) frozen beef rolls

1 red onion, chopped

2 red peppers (hot or sweet – your call!), chopped

mint leaves, about 500 ml (2 cups) lightly packed

30-45 ml (2-3 Tbsp) oil

30 ml (2 Tbsp) soy sauce

30 ml (2 Tbsp) dark soy sauce

30 ml (2 Tbsp) 料酒 cooking wine or other rice wine

30 g (2 Tbsp) butter

salt to taste

Heat oil in wok. Add onion and peppers, stir fry until done to your liking. Add beef rolls, stir fry until beef is cooked. Stir in soy sauce, dark soy sauce and cooking wine. Stir in butter until melted. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add mint leaves, toss a few times. Turn off heat and toss a few more times, then transfer to serving dish. Garnish with fresh mint leaves, if desired.

More, please.

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