Stir-fry is a quick and delicious way to use your plentiful supply of vegetables

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross
lienhart@purdue.edu

Maggie Hoffman/Flickr

The gardens, produce stands, farmers markets and grocery stores are bursting with colors and just about every vegetable you just might want to eat. The way you prepare these nutrient dense vegetables is only limited by your cooking creativity.

One of my favorite ways to prepare a variety of vegetables is to stir-fry. To stir-fry is to cook small bite sized pieces of vegetables and meats quickly over high heat in a very small amount of oil.

There are key words that make it all happen: small pieces, very little oil and high heat.

The cooking techniques sautéing and stir-frying are basically the same. The difference between the terms is primarily cultural. The stir-fried preparation technique reflects the Chinese plate, which includes many vegetables.

Most cooks don’t think about how foods get cooked, but in this process foods are cooked by not only the heat of the pan, but also the oil and the other foods that are being stir fried.

The name tells you what you must do when you are cooking; the ingredients should be stirred in the skillet or pan almost constantly during the frying so the food doesn’t stick and it cooks evenly.

Stir-frying is one of the best ways to maintain nutritional value, keep the colors, flavors and textures of foods. Your cooking pan can be a skillet; pan/​skillet; pot or wok.

My favorite or a wok. The pan/​skillet has deeper sides than most skillets, but not as deep as a pot or wok. A wok is slope sided and deep, and may require less oil than does a sauté skillet. When I have used a skillet for stir-fry I often have stirred food right out of the skillet. If you only have a pan like a dutch oven, it works fine. Stir-fry can also be prepared in your electric skillet.

The plus side of using less oil means that stir-fried foods are healthier for you and have fewer calories than fried foods. Each piece of meat collects in the bowl of the wok or skillet and is quickly seared and cooked.

Like most cooking you do, organization before you start to cook is most helpful; keep in mind that everything happens quickly in stir-frying. The speed of stir frying requires that the slicing, chopping and dicing be done in advance. I have also found it helpful to have spices ready.

For the best results, heat the wok or pan/​skillet first, then add the oil in a thin stream around the outside of the pan. As the oil slides down the hot sides, it both heats to the best cooking temperature and oils the sides of the wok, which keeps the food from sticking. I like to keep oil in a small squirt bottle, as this helps avoid using too much.

You can be as creative as you like and use your favorite local fresh vegetables like zucchini, onions, carrots, green peppers or peas. You can also use canned items like water chestnuts and bamboo sprouts.

The meat you use can be beef, pork, or chicken cut in narrow strips. I cook the meat first and then start adding the vegetables that require the most cooking first. I like to add the seasoning while cooking the meat so the seasoning blends with the meat — and bottom line, it just smells really good.

You just add the ingredients and toss and stir until it is all done. Once the vegetables and meat are done, you are ready for a glaze and seasoning.

SWEET AND SPICY STIR-FRY
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. pork, chicken, shrimp, or lean beef, sliced in very thin strips
  • 6 oz. of frozen stir fry vegetables, thawed
  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage
  • Nonfat vegetable spray

Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar

Directions

  1. Spray large skillet, wok or electric frying pan with cooking spray. Add meat and cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently until meat is browned.
  2. Add cabbage and stir fry vegetables; cook 5 minutes.
  3. Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl, and stir until cornstarch is dissolved.
  4. Add soy sauce, ketchup and brown sugar together, mix well.
  5. Pour sauce over meat mixture and toss well. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
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