This week marks the beginning of the year of the sheep on the Chinese calendar. What we in America know as Chinese food is rarely actually authentic. Despite its inauthenticity, our Americanized versions can still be delicious.

Some home cooks are too intimidated by preparation and ingredients to make Asian dishes. Asian food is often easy and once you get the hang of a few of the steps and become familiar with the ingredients, cooking these recipes can be a lot of fun.

If you are a fan of any type of Asian food, I suggest you build up a well-stocked pantry of Asian ingredients.

Many ingredients found in Asian cooking can be found at your local grocery store.
Items such as Sriracha chile sauce, wonton wrappers, rice vinegar and fish sauce have become fairly common, but if there are ingredients you cannot locate, try your local Asian market.

Asian markets can be found in every town and can be a lot of fun to just wander the aisles, looking at all the interesting goods. Don’t be intimidated by things you might find unusual: Store keepers are often willing to help you find what you are looking for.

Many recipes for Asian cooking call for using a wok. They are incredibly versatile and can be used for nearly any type of cooking. They are often known as cooking vessels for stir-frys, but can also be used for steaming, stewing, deep frying or sauting.

A wok has a rounded or slightly rounded bottom and is fairly thin to be heated quickly. Much of the cooking is done in the bottom then cooked ingredients are pushed up the sides to make room for the next ingredient to be cooked. When stir-frying, have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go; the cooking happens quickly, with no time allowed for gathering and cutting additional ingredients.

A standard wok is made of carbon steel and might seem hard to clean. Once you have finished cooking, remove the food and return to the heat.

Add water to the wok and bring to a simmer. Scrape away any food bits and pour out the water. Wipe out with a towel, and, if needed, rub with an oiled cloth. Store covered or away from settling dust until next time the mood hits.
Beef and Sweet Pepper Stir Fry

Ingredients:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 teaspoons cornstarch
1 clove garlic, pressed or peeled and grated
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds sirloin steak, cut into strips
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained
1/2 cup beef stock
1 green bell pepper: ribs and seeds removed; julienne
2 red bell peppers: ribs and seeds removed; julienne
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
2 cups cooked long-grain white rice

Combine soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and garlic, whisk to combine. Add beef strips and marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Combine water and remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Set aside.

Heat a wok or medium sauce pan over medium. When the pan is hot, add the beef and marinade. With a large spoon or spatula flip the ingredients constantly to promote even cooking. Cook until browned, about 2 minutes.

Add water chestnuts, beef stock, green peppers and cornstarch mixture. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.

When ready to serve remove from heat and toss in basil leaves. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pan-Fried Dumplings

Ingredients:
¾ pound ground pork
1 cup minced Chinese cabbage
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon Sriracha chile sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon sugar
20 round dumpling wrappers
Peanut oil or canola oil
2-3 cups chicken stock

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except wrappers, oil and chicken stock.

Place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of a dumpling wrapper; cover remaining wrappers with a damp cloth. Wet your fingers slightly and crimp the wrapper edges together. Keep one edge flat and continue to crimp across the other side. Press out as much air from the filling as possible; excess air may cause the dumpling to burst while cooking.

Heat a wok over medium high. When hot, add enough oil to coat the pan and swish it around. Arrange the dumplings, flat-side down, into the wok. Cook undisturbed until the bottoms are completely brown, swirling the oil from time to time.

Add chicken stock to about halfway up the sides of the dumplings. Bring to a simmer and cover the wok.

After the stock has been absorbed or has evaporated, continue to cook until the dumplings are crisp again on the bottom, but do not burn them. Remove from the pan and serve with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce.
Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
¼ cup chicken stock
3 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 green onions, thinly sliced

In a small sauce pot, bring soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and chicken stock to a simmer to dissolve sugar. Stir in ginger and green onions.
Season Stepp’s column appears in the Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal. Reach Stepp at Season28@aol.com.