Recipe: Pork and Sī Guā Stir-fry

Sī guā is a common vegetable used in Chinese cooking, but comes with a rather sinister English name: snake gourd, for the long, spindly shape. Despite the exotic name, I've seen it in both New York and Boston Chinatowns. (Sī guā is the long skinny gourd with bumpy ridges running the length of the outside.) The flesh is about as soft as a winter melon's, which means that any cooking method longer than a quick stir-fry will render it very soft.

Snake gourd goes well with a red meat that also cooks quickly, like lean pork. I add some green peppers, onions, and scallions, but keep the companion veggies to a minimum so the sī guā and pork stand out.

Even with a rough exterior, sī guā peels easily. So no need to exert more force than peeling, say, a carrot. My mother likes to cook sī guā with a concentrated abalone extract, which has the smell and texture of oyster sauce. Of course, good 'ol oyster sauce always works too and is much easier to find. Just don't cook melons or gourds with soy sauce or else your finished product will have a sour flavor.

Pork and Sī Guā Stir-fry

Serves 4 to 6, as part of a communal meal

6 oz lean pork 5 mL (1 teaspoon) cornstarch Salt and pepper 5 mL (1 teaspoon) sesame oil 5 mL (1 teaspoon) soy sauce 30 mL (2 tablespoons) Chinese rice wine or dry sherry 30 mL (2 tablespoons) vegetable oil 2 garlic cloves, halved 1/2 green pepper, roughly chopped 1 red onion, quartered and separated 2 snake gourds, halved and chopped into 6 cm long pieces 2 scallions stalks, roughly chopped 15 mL (1 tablespoon) oyster sauce 30 mL (2 tablespoon) water

The pork needs to marinate for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch, salt, and pepper with sesame oil, soy sauce, and 5 mL (1 teaspoon) of rice wine/sherry. Careful not to let the pork marinate for more than an hour.

Heat up 15 mL (1 tablepoon) of vegetable oil in your wok over high heat. Add 2 garlic halves and cook until fragrant. Add peppers and onions; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the sī guā and scallions. Add oyster sauce first, then 15 mL (1 tablespoon) of the water. Cover the wok with a lid and let the veggies cook for 5 more minutes. Scoop out veggies onto a plate and cover with a lid to keep warm.

Pour remaining vegetable oil into wok. Add the other 2 garlic halves and cook until fragrant. Stir in pork and brown each side. Add the remaining 25 mL cooking wine/sherry. Add the remaining 15 mL (1 tablespoon) of water to finish cooking the pork; a small amount of sauce should also have formed. Scoop out the pork, garlic, and sauce to serve over the gourd and over veggies.