Marinated Beef and Sweet Potato Stir Fry

Once upon a time many years ago, I had the opportunity to enjoy Lake Superior from the deck of a thirty-seven foot sailboat built by Gene Newhouse in Ashland, Wisconsin. I was introduced to Gene by my fishing partner Earl who was an experienced sailor. Gene was always looking for people to help crew the boat, and he decided that I could be taught enough to be of some help.

We had some wonderful adventures. I remember almost continuous lightning and high waves one night off the shore of the Upper Peninsula and an afternoon, nearly becalmed, when the thermometer registered ninety degrees just off Outer Island.

My memory of one weekend sail involves food. Usually there were just two or three of us on the boat, but Gene took pity on a couple of students trying to hitch a ride when the young woman said that she was a good cook. The boat had a cranky alcohol stove which worked best for making coffee and tea to accompany steaks cooked on the charcoal grill hung over the rail, so we were happy to hand off the job to someone else.

She took one of the three steaks we planned to cook if the wind was light enough to let us grill, sliced it into thin pieces, chopped an onion, a pepper, some potatoes and apples, made a sauce with whatever she found in the galley and wowed us with a stir fry. It was probably the first stir fry made on board Gene’s boat, and it was certainly the first stir fry I ate that included apples in the mixture.

I was thinking about that stir fry one evening while I pondered what to cook for dinner. A sweet potato that I had bought on impulse a week or two earlier caught my eye and I found a piece of round steak in the freezer. My previous attempts at stir frying round steak were not entirely successful, mainly because I have trouble cutting the meat into really thin slices.

I wondered if marinating the meat and cooking it in the marinade before I added the vegetables would help. Chopping the sweet potato into a larger dice might help too, since they could be cooked a little longer than typical stir fry vegetables without getting mushy. I added other vegetables that we enjoy in stir fries, and the result was excellent.


For the stir fry:
1/2 – 3/4 lb. lean beef
1 T teriyaki sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 T stir fry sauce
3 T vegetable oil, divided
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 large or two medium carrots (1/2-3/4 cup chopped)
1 small sweet potato (about 1 cup chopped)
1 sweet banana pepper
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped onion
Cooking spray
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon
1 1/2 T corn starch in 1 1/2 T cold water

For the rice:
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt


Cut the beef into eighth-inch slices about one and one-half inches long and put them into a quart bowl. Make a marinade by adding the teriyaki, soy and stir fry sauces to the bowl along with two tablespoons of oil and the wine. Mince the ginger and add it to the bowl. Stir everything together so the meat is covered with the marinade. Set the bowl aside and stir the meat occasionally.

The meat should marinate for about a half hour. That’s enough time to enjoy a small glass of wine before you prepare the vegetables.

Scrape or peel the carrots and chop them into quarter-inch rounds. If it’s a large carrot, slice it in half lengthwise before chopping it. Put the chopped carrot into a small mixing bowl.

Peel the sweet potato, cut it into quarter-inch thick slices and chop the slices into pieces about an inch long and a quarter-inch wide. Add the sweet potato to the bowl with the carrot.

This is about when I start cooking the rice. Rinse a cup of long grain white rice and put it into a one quart saucepan. Add two cups water and a half teaspoon of salt and bring the pan to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and let the rice finish cooking for about twenty minutes while you finish preparing the vegetables. Check after sixteen minutes to see if all the water has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat if it has, and fluff the rice with a fork before serving. If not, continue cooking for another couple of minutes.

Wash and slice the banana pepper lengthwise into quarters. Remove and discard the white membrane and seeds. Chop the pepper into half-inch pieces and set them aside in a mixing bowl. Clean and chop the green and red bell peppers into similar-sized pieces and add them to the banana pepper. Remove and discard the outer skin from the onion, chop it into a quarter-inch dice and add it to the peppers.

If at least thirty minutes have passed, it is time to start stir frying. If not, have another sip of wine or just lean back and relax until the meat has finished marinating.

Coat the inside of a large skillet with cooking spray, put it over moderate heat and dump in the meat and marinade mixture. Use a wooden spoon to stir the meat so that it does not stick or burn. Cook for three to four minutes, then add the carrots and sweet potato. Continue stirring and cooking for another six or seven minutes.

Add a tablespoon of oil with the peppers and onions to the skillet at this point and mix them with the other ingredients. Cook for about three minutes over moderate heat.

Dissolve the bouillon in the water and stir it into the meat and vegetables. Mix the cornstarch with the cold water and stir it into the skillet. Cook and stir the mixture until the sauce bubbles and turns clear.

Serve over the rice accompanied by bread and salad. Offer soy sauce in case guests want more salt.

NOTES: You can make your own sauce, as I sometimes do, but we almost always have soy, teriyaki and stir fry sauces in our refrigerator. The stir fry sauce I have been using recently is called Saigon Sizzle. It is spicier than some, so I thought it would accent the teriyaki sauce. If you make your own sauce, just remember to include the major taste groups: Salty, Sweet, and Spicy.

Do not omit the wine, as it adds flavor and helps tenderize the meat. The alcohol disappears during cooking.

Easy Ham Jambalaya

Next year New Orleans will celebrate its 200th birthday, an occurrence that deserves to be celebrated by every American who enjoys good music and food. Both owe much of their excellence to the unique history of New Orleans. Founded on May 7, 1718, by a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the city rapidly became the busiest port city on the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico. French colonists arrived who were joined by Spanish immigrants after the city and territory of Louisiana were ceded to the Spanish government in 1763. And as every schoolchild learns, the young United States bought New Orleans as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

The French and Spanish colonists brought African slaves, many from the Caribbean, and soon everyone was mixing together with native Americans. There was also a considerable addition of northern Europeans who headed south from places as far away as the Maritime Provinces and New England states to find fortune and warm weather. Not all found their fortunes, but there was enough warm weather for everyone, so they stayed and prospered.

New Orleans became a cultural salmagundi as people shared their languages, customs, religions, music and food. The ingredients were mixed together and stirred until something new was created that most everyone liked. In school we learned that the United States was a melting pot. New Orleans music provides a good example.

Consider Louis Moreau Gottschalk, born in New Orleans in 1829 to a Jewish businessman from London and a Creole mother. By 1860 Gottschalk was the best known pianist in the New World and a respected composer. His compositions are still in the classical piano repertoire. Better known today is jazz which was born in New Orleans and blues that grew up in the city, and both musical genres owe their genesis to the rich cultural history of the people living along the Mississippi River.

But when I think of New Orleans, I think first of the many recipes created by the Creole chefs of New Orleans and the Cajun cooks of the surrounding area. Oysters Rockefeller, shrimp étoufée, red beans and rice, gumbo and jambalaya are good examples. My favorite jambalaya recipe uses more ingredients and takes twice as long to make as this simplified version, but if you are in a hurry or just plain lazy on a hot day, this recipe for ham jambalaya is a good substitute. With it, you can make enough in half an hour to satisfy four hungry people.


1 cup white rice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T olive oil
3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped onions
2 – 3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups cooked ham
2 cups (1 can) stewed tomatoes
2 cups (1 can) chicken broth
2 tsp. Cajun seasoning


Start by cooking the rice. Put two cups of water, a cup of white rice and a half teaspoon of salt into a one quart saucepan. Stir the rice as it comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook it until the water is absorbed, about fifteen or twenty minutes.

While the rice is cooking, remove the stem and root ends from the the onion and chop it into a quarter-inch dice. Wash, remove the stem, seeds and white membrane from the pepper and chop it into a half-inch dice. Remove the paper from the garlic cloves and mince them. Put the onion, pepper and garlic into a skillet with the tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Stir occasionally and cook for about five minutes until the peppers begin to soften.

While the vegetables are cooking, chop the ham into a half-inch dice. Stir the tomatoes with their juice, the chicken broth, ham and Cajun seasoning into the vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for seven to eight minutes.

Stir in the rice, bring the jambalaya back to a simmer. Simmer for a minute or two if necessary to reduce the liquid. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Serve in bowls with bread and salad.

NOTES: This recipe makes a very mild jambalaya. You might want to put a bottle of hot sauce on the table for guests who appreciate more spice. Rather than buying a jar of Cajun seasoning, you can make your own in a just a couple of minutes. Here is a recipe.

5/8 tsp. oregano
5/8 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. chili pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1/4 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt

Grind everything together with a mortar and pestle or just stir the ingredients together, mashing them a little with a wooden spoon. This recipe makes enough for two or three batches of jambalaya.

If you are careful to buy gluten-free ingredients, you can satisfy guests with gluten intolerance.