Monday, July 24, 2006

Working Eater Series: Simple Stir-Fries

My most common working eater meal is "the stir-fry." I'd say if I eat at home for the whole week, I will 9 times out of 10 be eating stir-fried vegetables.

Making stir-fries is relatively intuitive, but as you can tell from the overall content of my blog, I love stating the obvious!

In this post, I'll give you tips that I employ on a regular basis, but I hope you learn at least one new tidbit of information.

There are no inflexible ground rules to making stir-fries. Well, maybe some. In this post, I am going to outline some of my "dos" and "don'ts" to putting together a quick stir-fry for an evening after work.

Tip #1: Always use fresh herbs. Don't be shy, but be experimental. Cilantro and basil are two commonly used herbs in Asian cuisine. I generally use cilantro for Chinese-themed stir-fries and basil for a Southeast-Asian or Thai kick. But also think about using mint, lemongrass, or freshly chopped ginger. For every stir-fry, chopped garlic and scallions or yellow onions are mandatory.

Tip #2: Although it is important to include a varied assortment of vegetables, remember which vegetables generally work together. An avocado and cucumber stir-fry might taste a little narley. When you are starting out (essentially, if you are a stir-fry virgin), first try the generic basics, like mushrooms. Also, a sub-tip about mushrooms. If you are wary of experimenting with a unique (and more-expensive) types of mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, then combine the "gourmet" mushrooms with plain, ole' button mushrooms, to extend the earthy taste (and the pocketbook). Remember to cook mushrooms earlier on in the game, so that they can release their excess liquid.

Tip #3: I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again. Always cut the vegetables that you will be using in your stir-fries into relatively uniform, bite-sized pieces. You want all of the same pieces of the vegetables to cook at the same rate. Even if they are different vegetables, I find it preferable to have bite-sized florets of broccoli alongside bite-sized slices of carrots. Of course, you can vary the size of certain vegetables based on their cooking time, but try to avoid the massive discrepancies in the "cut size" of the different vegetables.

Tip #4: Always begin by cooking the meat first, and then add the vegetables, unless of course, it is seafood. Then, you should add the seafood after the vegetables, but "when" exactly you'll add it will depend on the cook time. Always add the ingredients to the stir-fries in stages, because if you add them all at once, the temperature inside the skillet or wok will decrease and the liquid won't fully evaporate. You'll tend to get a mushier, sloppier stir-fry that way.

Tip #5: Finally, instead of serving your stir-fry on regular white rice, try a more nutritious alternative, like black rice (pictured below), brown rice, or wild rice.

Okay, now go and experiment! And also come back to let me know if you have any stir-fry tips that you'd like to share!


  1. Hi PE!
    I miss cooking. I miss blogging. Thanks for your posts. They never fail to cheer me up.
    That's it. Your post encouraged me to be brave enough to try cooking a simple stir-fry here in our lowly seminary pantry. I hope my superior does not get mad at me! he-he.
    Although i'm not sure what i can buy with my $17 monthly allowance! yoiks.
    Thanks again for the creative posts.

  2. Oh this is most informative. Thanks so much. I'm not quite a stir-fry virgin (thanks to you in great part) but I'm learning from every new thing you post. Wow!!!
    (And then there's that amazing oyster omelet in Sunday's post! I meant to leave a comment but Blogger was not cooperating. Sweet potato starch? Will wonders never cease.)

  3. what about the oil??? how about california rice oil-higher smoke point(490) than peanut oil and healthier-get it HOT, it can take the heat...and what about this heat wave?

  4. I miss you too J Haw! I can't wait to see updated posts, but I know that when you are not cooking or blogging, you are channeling your creativity into other realms--like teaching! Either way, someone benefits!

    You'll have to try the omelet in a restaurant or at home Cookie Crumb. I'm interested to hear what you think when you taste it! Also, I forgot to write a tip about sauces. Feel free to experiment with chili sauce, shrimp and curry pastes, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Don't limit yourself to soy sauce.

    Good point Ellen! I usually just use peanut oil or vegetable oil. I'll try California rice oil sometime.

  5. Kudos to you for cooking, especially in this hot weather (Is it hot where you are?). I like your cooking posts!

    I'm eating out all this week, just cheap stuff for dinner and staying in to eat lunch at the office...this muggy weather is just so stifling!

    By the way, like you, I love the way Thai Basil just classes up a simple stir fry!

  6. Hi PE - Man, you are tough, cooking in this heat! I've always admired your cooking photos, and all the step-by-step info!

  7. Elmo Monster, I'm embarassed to say it, but it actually is not that hot here in San Francisco. (But Walnut Creek and other parts of the Bay Area are also feeling the 100º heat.) I know that while the rest of California is in a perpetual sauna (without the steam), I am in the best weather I've ever seen here. But please, don't be mad or jealous. I promise that it is "usually" too cold to enjoy the weather here, at least like how I used to in Southern California.

    Kirk! I thought that one of the New Year's Resolutions for 2006 was to cook more at home (which includes making the Missus breakfast in bed every morning and baking homemade doggie biscuits for the Boyz)! That is okay, I forgive you (and Elmo for eating out during this heatwave, as it is totally justifiable and understandable. I hope that the Boyz and the Missus are keeping cool though. :(

  8. Amen. In my vegetarian days, stir-fries were the perfect answer not only to dietary constraints but to speedy, tasty dinners. Certainly I ought to keep pre-cut veggies on hand more often for just such a thing.

  9. Excellent idea Sean! Some of my friends buy frozen bags of stir-fry mixes at the grocery store and just come home and add meat and sauce to make dinner after work. I'm sure you'd probably pre-wash and pre-cut your own fresh produce though (I gathered that from your food blog), and I agree with you that that is the way to go.


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