You pass by your favorite Chinese takeout spot every day on the way home from work and can’t resist picking up dinner tonight. For one, it means you won’t have to cook or wash dishes. It’s also tempting because you love a good stir-fry. Who doesn’t?
A stir-fry is a combination of fresh vegetables, prepared in a rich sauce. It may or may not include protein, such as chicken, tofu, or eggs. You can eat it as a side dish, or serve it over fluffy rice as a main meal. It’s an irresistible one-pot wonder that offers a comforting plate of deliciousness.
But you don’t have to order in to enjoy stir-fry. Stir-frying is a popular technique, because it’s budget-friendly, quick-cooking, easy for entertaining, and a great way to use leftovers. And when you prepare it yourself, you control the ingredients—which makes for a healthier meal.
Now, let’s get technical: To stir-fry is to cook over high heat in a small amount of fat. The food is consistently stirred to keep it from burning, hence the word “stir” in stir-fry. The idea is to quickly cook the ingredients so the vegetables remain colorful and crunchy, and the meat retains its moisture.
Seasonings are essential to yielding a rich, flavorful result. In addition to aromatics like onion, garlic, and ginger, I add tamari and brown rice vinegar. Tamari is a gluten-free soy sauce that imparts the deep saltiness that’s indicative of a traditional stir-fry, and the vinegar lends a bit of brightness.
Next time you’re in the mood for takeout, do try this challenge at home!
- Start Fresh. I create a flavor base with an onion, a few garlic cloves, and freshly grated ginger. For the bulk of the dish, I opt for about 3 to 4 cups of fresh chopped vegetables. Depending on the season, I like broccoli, green beans, corn, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, and mushrooms. You can even use leftover vegetables from another meal.
- Get Prepped. Chop or slice all your ingredients so they’re relatively even in size. You can also cut carrots and denser veggies into thin strips or matchsticks. Be sure all your vegetables and proteins (if using) are prepped and seasonings are measured before you start cooking – this method moves fast.
- Choose Your Fat. The stir-fry will be cooked over fairly high heat. To prevent burning and sticking, I recommend selecting oil with a moderate to high smoke point, or combining oils, such as olive and grapeseed. You can also try refined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil, derived from dry coconut, is processed in such a way to remove its distinctive odor and flavor (Virgin coconut oil is healthier, but the refined coconut oil will keep your stir-fry from tasting like a piña colada)!
- Stir to Fry. A wok is the traditional vessel used to make stir-fry, but if you don’t have one, a large frying or cast iron pan will do (one with high or slanted sides is best). Pour the oil into the wok or pan, and let it heat. Add the aromatics and stir well. Start by adding the denser veggies, like broccoli, and then the delicate ones, like zucchini. Stir continuously.
- Season, Spice, and Steam. Pour in your soy sauce, brown rice vinegar, and other seasonings of choice. I usually also add a bit of water, so I can cover and gently steam the veggies for just a few minutes. This allows the flavors to marry and the veggies to soften a bit more. Just be sure you don’t overcook them. You want the texture to be crisp, not mushy.