Since becoming essentially vegetarian, the vegetable stir-fry has become the quick-and-easy staple of my diet. With just a few utensils and seasonings, a veggie stir-fry can make use of a wide variety of vegetables that you might have in your fridge and pantry. At the request of my mother, I attempt here to write up a generic formula for this type of dish.
What you need:
- Wok (or large, high-sided frying pan)
- Spatula (a stiff one that can take heat. Bamboo is great and dishwasher safe)
- Oil – Canola can take heat pretty well, it’s what I prefer
- Vegetables – may vary, see below
- Seasonings – may vary, see below
- Rice – some would argue that stir-fry needs rice. I consider it optional. I personally prefer short-grain brown rice, but your taste may vary.
All of these are optional, but some are highly recommended
- Onion – highly recommended. Onions form a solid base for your stir-fry
- Garlic – highly recommended. Adds some zing, and it’s good for you, too
- Ginger – FRESH. It keeps well. Just chop it into tiny bits. Adds zing.
- Peppers (green/yellow/red) – sweet, add body. Cut into short strips.
- Broccoli – very nutritious, adds body. Cut off tops, discard branches, peel and cut stem.
- Carrots – sweet, add flavor. Julienne.
- Leeks – add an onion-like zing. Chop.
- Green onions – similar to leeks. Chop.
- Water chestnuts – soak up sauce, add crunch. Slice or buy sliced (easier).
- Asparagus – adds a lot of nutrition, should end up crunchy unless you overcook it.
- Snow peas – or other pods. They add variety and some fiber. Cut off the ends and toss in whole.
- Cabbage – many types. Try Chinese Cabbage (a.k.a. Bok Choy). If you use Bok Choy, use the whole thing. The leaves are more flavorful, and the stalks add body.
- Bamboo shoots – I don’t really like these, but they are common in stir-fry.
- Bean sprouts – cool and crunchy
- Baby corn – salty and have a mild humorous value. It’s little-bitty corn!
- Tofu – not a vegetable, really, but adds a lot of protein and body. Cut into bite-sized cubes. If squeezed dry enough, it does a great job of soaking up sauce.
- Other – add whatever you want. Experiment. Some things will go well together, others won’t. Only experience will tell.
There are tons of seasonings that you could use. Here are some of my favorites:
- Red pepper flakes – these will make it very very hot
- Honey – goes well with pepper flakes, adds sweetness
- Red chili sauce – also makes it very spicy. I like it that way.
- Soy sauce – essential for salt and flavor. Use liberally.
- Sesame oil – adds a smoky, rich flavor. Use sparingly.
- Start the rice first! It usually takes a long time. Once it’s got about 10 minutes left, you will need to start stir-frying. You can chop vegetables while you wait.
- Chop all of the vegetables and tofu first. You can’t do this properly if you’re trying to chop vegetables while the process is ongoing.
- Find all of your spices and get them ready. Put them by the stove. If they have internal shaker-type lids with holes, those can often be problematic in getting the stuff out. You may want to pop these off, especially once you get more experience with the amounts you want.
- Place the wok on the stove. Gas is very much preferred. Turn the heat to high.
- Add oil to the heating wok. You want enough to cover maybe half of the bottom of the wok. If you have a ton of vegetables, add a little more.
- Start adding vegetables, hardest first. Onions are the exception — I usually add them and the garlic first. Then ginger. Things like bean sprouts and pea pods should probably be added toward the end. Remember that everything will keep cooking as you add more, so don’t cook the first ingredient all of the way before adding the second. This is another thing you’ll have to get a feel for. Peppers too mushy? Add them later next time.
- Keep stirring and adding. You can let it sit for a few seconds if it doesn’t sizzle at all. If it sizzles to much and spits a little, don’t turn it down. Just add a little water. It’ll boil and steam and make some noise, but it won’t spit as much, as the water absorbs the extra heat. As a bonus, it steams the veggies.
- Once your veggies are all in, add some soy sauce. This might sizzle a bit.
- If you’re satisfied with the amount of soy sauce, add a little sesame oil. After 10-20 seconds your kitchen should smell pretty good.
- If you want heat, now is the time to add the red pepper flakes. Use sparingly. A few flakes can heat up a lot of vegetables.
- If you want sweetness, add some honey. Make sure to add it on top of the vegetables, and then stir. Don’t put it on bare pan, as it’ll scorch and possibly goo to the pan.
- Once you’re pretty much done, add chili sauce if you want some. Stir it in.
- If you’re using tofu, add the cubes now. Make sure they get to the bottom of the wok so that they can soak up the sauce. Cook until they’re warmed through. You may want to nab one with a fork or chopsticks and try it out to be sure.
- You can now either stop, or dump the rice in. Sometimes it’s nice to fry the rice a bit with the vegetables. If you’d rather put the stir-fry over the rice, though, stop stir-frying. Turn the heat off. If you’re using an electric stove, put the wok on a cool burner.
- If putting the stir-fry over rice, spread the rice on some plates, and then dish the stir-fry over it. If serving to a group, you might want to leave the wok and pot of rice out for people to serve themselves in proportions they prefer.
Please feel free to comment or e-mail me with criticisms, comments, suggestions, etc… regarding these instructions. Enjoy!