Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Basic Easy Stir Fry

There is nothing I can think of that is easier to make and healthier than a stir fry. Done right, it should be mostly veggies, and since the veggies are cooked without water, there is no dilution of nutrients. Even steaming dilutes somewhat. Some form of protein should be added. And serve the whole thing over brown rice. Very filling, very nutrient-dense, and fairly economical. Best of all, stir fry is extremely versatile. Nearly any vegetable or protein that is left over in the fridge can be tossed into a stir fry, so it's great for cleaning out the fridge. It's not really a seasonal meal, because it can so easily change with the seasons. So, winter, spring, summer or fall, you can easily turn to it when your brain is scrambled and you can't think of what to make for dinner.

There is no need to buy the high salt, high additive stir fry sauces that are typically sold in the supermarket ethnic section. There is also no need to buy those frozen stir fry veggie mixes. These products are seriously expensive, and in many cases very unhealthy. They're also completely unnecessary! Stir fry is an easy do-it-yourself meal, so why take short cuts that will only serve up a second-rate meal?

The "recipe" below is based on one that my mother made while I was growing up. I apply the same principles to any stir fry I make, but I change all the main elements.

This recipe will serve 5.

Basic Stir Fry
4 portions of protein (1 lb. chicken, beef, fish or shellfish, or 4 eggs, or 1/2 cup nuts, 3/4 box of extra firm tofu, 1 package tempeh, etc.) - you could use a combination of proteins, to make things more interesting

Cut the protein (if appropriate) into bite-size chunks. Marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours in a mixture of the following:
2 Tbsps. low-sodium tamari (or other soy sauce)
2 Tbsps. dry sherry (or rice vinegar)
2 tsps. corn starch

Vegetables can include any number of things, but I usually include the following items or categories:
garlic - 3 cloves, sliced thinly
ginger - 1-2 inches, peeled and julienned
onion family - could be white onion, scallions, chives - cut into medium-sized pieces
leafy green or cabbage family - kale, bok choy, napa cabbage, broccoli are all good choice - cut into bite-size pieces
root vegetable family - carrots, turnips, parsnips - cut into thin, short strips
Asian vegetable - snow peas, beans sprouts, baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots - many of these are only available in cans
miscellaneous fridge veggies - whatever else you have that is on the verge of spoiling can be tossed in for good measure. Often, I find that's a red pepper.

Prepare a sauce before starting to cook:
3 Tbsps. low-sodium tamari (or other soy sauce)
2 Tbsps. dry sherry (or mirin, for a sweeter version)
2 Tbsps. brown rice vinegar
4 Tbsps. water
1 Tbsp. sugar or agave nectar (if using agave, make sure the sauce is heated gently, so it doesn't burn)
1 tsp. chinese chili paste (optional)

To prepare, heat 2-3 Tbsps. safflower oil in a wok over high heat. Add protein and stir fry until just about done. Remove the protein and set aside. Add garlic and ginger and stir fry for about 2 minutes, until golden. Add remaining vegetables. Stir fry until wilted/brightly colored/cooked, but still somewhat firm. Return protein to the wok and incorporate. Add the sauce, and remove from heat. Serve over brown rice.

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