Beef, Bell Pepper & Tomatoes with Rice . $4.88

A light hand transforms this often ordinary and rather lackluster buffet staple into a gorgeous dish of flavorful beef, tender/crisp peppers and glistening tomatoes. Minutes to make, Beef with Bell Peppers and Tomatoes has long been one of our family’s go to dishes in mid to late summer when the tomatoes and peppers are in season.

Beef with Tomatoes & Peppers

Beef with Tomatoes & Peppers

Growing up in Iowa, lots of beef was simply a matter of fact in our household – we just didn’t know any different or better. Having a garden meant we’d run out and pick the peppers and tomatoes. But where and how my Irish/German mom got the idea or the recipe for this classic dish remains to this day a mystery.

Regardless, this became a favorite recipe, passed on to me by my Mom, and then to my kids by me. One problem I noticed, though, as an adult I had a chance to sample this dish in restaurants…even though many versions I tasted were overly salty, overly intense or overly cooked, there seemed to be a “dimension” in my recipe that was missing.

Browsing the Asian Grandmother’s blog (one of my favorites – you may recall that Pat taught me how to turn out a fantastic Fried Rice) I came across Pat’s post on her Beef, Tomato and Green Pepper Stir Fry in which she remarks, “2 teaspoons fermented black beans or “dow see,” rinsed and drained (optional but highly recommended.)” Her recipe also has Oyster Sauce. I had my “aha” moment. Adding both to my Mom’s recipe transformed a wonderful dish into one that surpasses any restaurant version I’ve ever had.

Although lacking a few ingredients, it seems Mom had a good grasp on the fundamentals of how to cook this dish – she knew to keep the vegetables fresh and vibrant, crisp and tender, and to make certain the meat was just cooked through. While my Mom often used a cut of sirloin and others often use flank, I use a simple, inexpensive round steak, a cut that really brings the flavor but once over cooked turns tough, dry and tasteless. You’ll need to watch it carefully – make sure it’s still pink when you add the cornstarch slurry.

Thanks Mom – and thanks Pat! And to all who are reading this, the recipe below is my family’s version with the additions I learned of from Pat Tanumihardja. To see Pat’s version, please visit (and browse her blog) at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook blog. Her stories are wonderful and her recipes just as good! I have a long list in my head of what one’s I want to try next! With the additions from Pat, my recipe comes dangerously close to her own…I hope she’ll forgive me as I wanted to get this post out on my blog for my sister and daughter.

Be sure to read my strategies, below, to see how I bring this recipe in on a budget and buy the round steak at a bargain price! Serve with rice, pass the soy sauce and enjoy! Cost for the Beef, Bell Pepper and Tomatoes, about $4.60, the rice 28 cents. I estimated about 20 cents for the sauces and sherry.

For the Marinade:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon ginger

For the Beef, Bell Pepper & Tomatoes:

2 tablespoons oil, divided
1 pound round steak
1 large onion, sliced vertically
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
2 teaspoons dow see (fermented black beans)
2 large (or three smaller) green peppers, sliced in vertical strips
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 to 3 tomatoes, cut into wedges

In a medium-sized bowl, mix marinade ingredients, the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sherry, and ginger. Set aside.

Freeze beef for about 20 to 30 minutes until stiff, but not frozen. Slice into sections about 2 inches wide, then slice strips from the sections by holding your knife at an angle and cutting across the grain into 1/8″ slices. Place in bowl with marinade and toss together. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet or a wok until hot. Add onion and cook until nearly soft, stirring often. Add garlic, green pepper and dow see, and stirring often, cook until green pepper is slightly softened, but still crisp. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining oil heat briefly. Add meat (cook in batches if needed) and cook, stirring often, until the meat is mostly cooked but still pink in the center.

While meat is cooking, mix a cornstarch slurry. Add the cornstarch to a small cup then add water, bit by bit as you mix. As soon as the meat is ready, add the cornstarch slurry and stir until it comes to a boil.

Quickly add the onion/bell pepper mixture back into the skillet, along with the tomatoes, and cook briefly until tomatoes are heated through. Remove from heat. Serve with rice.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Round Steak: One of the more inexpensive cuts of beef, it has great flavor but it’s pretty lean. It can turn dry, tough and chewy if overcooked. Before I knew better, and trying to save money, I often bought the small packages of thinly cut round steak in the store – they didn’t cost much, but the price per pound was often more than had I bought a roast and sliced it into steaks myself. You’ll often see round steak cut into small oval shapes anywhere from 1/2 an inch to an inch thick, masquerading as “steak” for an even higher price. Don’t be fooled – you’re going to be paying a premium price for a cheap cut if you buy those steaks. Round steak is often packaged as cubed steak, too. Always check the per pound pricing of these items – in my area the larger “roasts” are rarely $1.99 a pound, but more often $2.49 a pound on sale. Buy then, cut or pound it yourself and freeze it so you’ll have it on hand when you wish.
  • Onions: They keep well, so try to buy on sale. Aldi’s is a good place to find reasonably priced onions. Always less expensive in the fall/winter months, the pricing in my area runs from 33 to 66 cents a pound. Store them in a dark, cool place but not near potatoes. If you’ve bought too many onions, don’t let them go bad.
  • Slice or dice them, saute and portion into Ziplocs labeled “onions” and freeze. You’ve just saved yourself a step for next time you make a dish. If you have enough, consider making French Onion Soup. If you use half an onion, consider if you can sauté the rest and put it in a Ziploc in the freezer. If not store in the door where you’ll see it when you’re cooking next. 1 at 33 cents a pound, about 10 cents.
  • Dow See: While I might normally lump this under the Asian condiments, this one is a little special. I did find it in the regular grocery store, but I don’t have many recipes I use it for. Frankly, even after a good long while in the fridge, it seemed fine, but since we don’t eat a lot of beef, and I didn’t want to waste it, I divided it up into little mounds on some plastic wrap and froze it. I just tore a bit of the plastic wrap that I froze it on to wrap each mound and then ganged them all up in a Ziploc bag. Cost: pennies.
  • Asian Condiments and Ingredients: Often on unadvertised sales, the market is competitive. Check in the Ethnic sections of the store as well as near the American/Asian if your store has both. Producers sometimes have coupons which often make the bottles free with a good sale. Look for sales around Asian Holidays. Cost: pennies.
  • Ginger: Ginger can vary wildly in price, although I’ve never seen it marked for “sale.” I pick up a root or two when it seems reasonable and freeze in a heavy Ziploc. It doesn’t ever freeze so hard that one can’t grate it, and keeps for a long time. Cost negligible.
  • Sherry: I really shop the sales and speak to the employees – I find I can find great wines for a pittance. If you have a wine shop you like, I find you can get mailings or emails for their best sales – often in the fall and spring. My last bottle of a basic sherry was $2.99 – I know, I know, they say always buy a wine you’d drink to cook with, but you’d be surprised at the bargains you can get and how long you can use a bottle for quick little recipes like this. Sherry is a fortified wine and lasts forever – cost for this recipe is nominal.
  • Bell Pepper:  There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper. I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find. The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too. A really good price in our area is about a fifty to seventy cents a pepper for the red, yellow or orange ones, and 40 to 75 cents for the green bell. This is one item I seldom buy at Aldi’s, but this week, surprise, Aldi’s has them for 40 cents a piece. Cost $.80.
  • Tomatoes, fresh: These vary in price (and quality) according to season, and a good price here in Minnesota is between 69 and 99 cents a pound. In the winter, I often look for plum tomatoes because they seem to taste better. Don’t be swayed by the outside of the tomato – some of the best have imperfections, especially if they’re vine ripened. Never refrigerate your tomatoes if you can help it. An old farm wife’s trick? Add a sprinkle of salt and sugar if your tomatoes are tasteless. 3 medium tomatoes, about five to six ounces each: $.99
  • Cornstarch:  This is one of those baking items best bought around the winter holidays when baking items are at their least expensive and coupons are available. Cost for a tablespoon:  about a penny.
  • Rice: Always inexpensive, there are two ways to buy rice: Either go for a smaller, name brand box or bag and use a coupon, which with a good sale can net you rice for free or just pennies, or alternatively: Look for the largest bag you can find on sale that you will use in a reasonable amount of time. Check the Rice/Pasta aisle, the Mexican Aisle and the Asian aisle (or markets) and do a little comparing of price/weight. Once you figure what is least expensive, you might want to recheck every now and then. I jot down what I paid for rice in my price book or even on the bag, so I have an idea of how much I paid originally. While I used to figure a good price in my area was about 8 cents a cup (uncooked) I’m pretty regularly paying more than that now, about 28 cents a cup, uncooked, or about 7 cents a serving – 1/4 cup uncooked, 1/2 cup, cooked. Cost 28 cents.

Put Your own Spin on it:

  • Try a variety of vegetables that appeal to you and your family. There is no real reason that you can’t enjoy this lovely dish even if green peppers or tomatoes aren’t high on your list of favorites!
  • Pat, on her blog, used celery in this, which would add a wonderful crunch – and which is also an inexpensive ingredient.

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