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Monday, March 8, 2010

Quick & Easy Stir Fry Dinner

I really file this one under the category of "Too Easy to Need a Recipe", however, I've been reminded repeatedly that to people who don't cook as often and/or do not have the level of experience & confidence that I do in the kitchen, this dish does not appear easy. In light of that, here's my favorite stir-fry with a few variations.

This does require some Asian ingredients. These can often be found at your "regular" market, however, if you have an Asian community it is worth the trek to an Asian market for these ingredients so that you have them on hand. They will be far less expensive and you'll also have the chance to shop for lovely things like steamed rice buns stuffed with mustard greens (or pumpkin, tofu & celery, etc.), delicious Asian veggies & fresh herbs including bamboo shoots in water (as opposed to canned/pickled), dried tofu skin, and other great things you won't find in an American market.

The Shopping List
  • Hoisin Sauce (often mistakenly referred to as "plum sauce", this is a must-have)
  • Mushroom Sauce (a.k.a. "vegetarian oyster sauce")
  • Sweet Chili Sauce
  • Mirin (a sweet cooking wine)
  • White Miso
  • Rice Vinegar
  • Seasoned Rice Vinegar (a.k.a. "Sushi Vinegar")
  • Sriracha (a.k.a. "Rooster Sauce")
  • Peanut Oil
  • Tomato Paste in a Tube
The Stuff

This is where you can truly be creative. Stir-fries and soup are the best way to use up the veggies you have on hand. Some work better than others, but if you just choose an assortment of what you have on hand and know you enjoy, the dish will be delicious.

Plan on having 3 or more cups of vegetables sliced or diced into relatively small, bite-size pieces. If you are using a kind of green that will cook down you will want to use at least 3 cups of the fresh greens cleaned that have been shredded/tore roughly. Consider using some of the following:
  • carrots
  • celery
  • beets (roots & greens)
  • chard (stems removed, diced and sauteed ahead of the greens)
  • kale
  • spinach
  • broccoli (crowns & stems)
  • rapini
  • rabe (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc.)
  • snow peas with pods
  • green beans
  • cauliflower
  • bell peppers
  • daikon
  • winter squash
  • summer squash
  • bok choi
  • ...getting the idea here?

  • Add some aromatics:
    • onion
    • leek
    • garlic
    • shallot
    • ginger
    • Thai basil (e.g., Siam Queen basil)
    • Shiso leaves
    • Kefir lime leaves (for a very Thai flavor)
    • fresh coriander (cilantro)
    • fresh chilies
  • Then pick one of the following:
    • 8 oz firm or extra firm tofu, cubed
    • 8 oz tempeh, cubed
    • 8 oz aduki beans, chick peas or other legume
The Making

Several variations here for you to experiment with. All, variations start by heating a tablespoon each of canola and peanut oils in a wok on medium high (use all canola if you have a peanut allergy). When oil is hot and forms ribbons on the bottom of the wok add in the onions. As the onions start to soften, about 3 minutes, add in garlic and/or shallot. If you are using leeks instead of onions saute the garlic and/or shallots first and add leeks when the garlic starts to soften. If you want to use fresh ginger, add it a minute after the garlic/shallot. If you are using tofu or tempeh, add it in next and stir-fry until some of the sides turn slightly golden.

Add in vegetables to onions and stir-fry at medium high for a few minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, add 2 tablespoons of water, and cover with lid. If you are using greens, do not add these in yet. Let the vegetables cook for 5 minutes, remove lid and stir. If they have brightened and have started to soften any greens can be added in next. If you are using legumes like aduki or chick peas, add them in too. Toss well and then add one of the sauce variations below:

Basic Stir-fry
Add 2 tablespoons each of hoisin and mushroom sauces and a dash of vinegar. Toss well with vegetables, cover and let cook on low for 5 more minutes. Nice served with Thai basil or fresh coriander as a garnish.

This variation reminds me a little of the basic brown sauce seen in some Vietnamese dishes, particularly if I caramelize the onions & garlic a bit first.
Sweet & Sour
Whisk together a tablespoon each of hoisin, mirin, vinegar, sweet chili sauce, water and tomato paste, add to vegetables, toss well, and cook on medium-low heat for 5 additional minutes. Toss vegetables in sauce often to help reduce liquid in sauce.

This has a more distinctly SE Asian flavor than a standard American/Chinese dish.
*Kefir lime leaves should be added to the stir-fry when the vegetables are first added to any onion or garlic. Once the vegetables are tender, add 2 tablespoons each hoisin and mushroom sauces, a tablespoon sweet chili sauce, and the juice from half a lime. Toss well with vegetables, cover and let cook on low for 5 more minutes. Remove lime leaves before serving with Thai basil as garnish.

If you want to go extra crazy, chop up a stalk of lemongrass, smash with side of knife and add that in at the beginning as well. Remove chunks when the lime leaves come out.
Japanese Style
Whisk together a tablespoon each of tamari, mirin and white miso. Toss well with vegetables, cover and let cook on low for 5 more minutes. Garnish lightly with shiso leaves cut into very fine ribbons and furikake.

Kind of a sweet stir-fry as well. Also nice with a very small dash of sesame oil.
Serve stir-fry with brown rice, quinoa, steamed buns, rice noodles or just by itself. For 3-4 people.


  1. Oh, yummy. I am going to try some of these out. I usually go with soy sauce, water, sarachi, and a little sugar for the base, then add corn starch to thicken in the last minute of cooking.

  2. I've done the variation you mention a lot and it is an old favorite, although I've sometimes had the problem of the corn starch coming out lumpy, same with arrowroot. Out of dislike of lumpy starches and laziness I just go with the longer reduction and accept the thinner sauce.