This feisty and ultra-satisfying vegan dish turns carnivorous in one simple step
Winter may seem an odd time for a stir-fry. Aren’t vegetables best in the spring and summer? But most of the vegetables used in a stir-fry… onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, etc… are available year round. On a cold night, yes, a hearty stew or soup is wonderful… but so is a delicious bowl of perfectly cooked vegetables. Finished with a savory sauce and fresh herbs, this stir-fry will satisfy the hungriest soul.
I’ve been playing around with this recipe for a while, working to get it just right. I discovered there are two keys to making the best stir-fry possible:
- the order in which you cook the vegetables
- the sauce you use to bring the dish together.
When it comes to cooking the vegetables, for ease you certainly can throw everything in a sauté pan and quick cook the vegetables all together. But different vegetables have different cooking times and if you cook everything together, you end up with a less than satisfying mush. Additionally, I like certain vegetables (onions, chili peppers, garlic) cooked down soft for flavor, while others (colored bell peppers and zucchini) I like to remain just a touch undercooked to give the stir-fry different layers of texture as well as a satisfying crunch. It takes a little more time to cook this way, but the final dish is infinitely better. Acid and fresh herbs at the end brightens the dish enormously.
As for the sauce, most recipes I saw online were way too sweet. Experimenting with a variety of choices, over time I narrowed the sauce down to three savory ingredients with a dollop of honey. It’s killer. A lot of stores are carrying these ingredients now but you can easily order them from Amazon; just click the links in the recipe. It’s worth having these in your pantry.
Finally, if you want some protein, thinly slice some chicken or beef or pork (or a combo), marinate the meat in the sauce while the first round of vegetables cook, then slide the protein into the pan at the time mentioned in the recipe below.
This recipe is highly adaptable. You can use whatever vegetables you like or what you have on hand. (While the freshest vegetables are ideal, I’ve used this recipe to clean out the vegetable drawer in the fridge… works great.) You can even do a lot of chopping/prep on a Sunday afternoon or one evening and have vegetables to use all week.
With a salad as your starter and the stir-fry served over a bowl of rice (or another grain or ‘cauliflower rice’), this is a stir-fry you will make often. I’ve been hitting it at least twice a week for well over a month and haven’t tired of it one bit.
(serves 2 hungry people with a little left over… this also doubles easily)
Ingredients for sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce or Nama Shoyu
1/2 cup Sambal Chili Paste
1/2 cup Chili Garlic Sauce
1 large dollop of honey
Ingredients for stir-fry (in order of cook)
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin half moons
1/2 fennel bulb, cored, sliced thin
1 or 2 chilis, sliced, seeds removed… or use a few seeds for some spice! Fresno Chili is best but use your favorite or what you have on hand… Jalapeño, Serrano, Anaheim, etc.
1 stalk celery and leaves, sliced thin and separated
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 carrots, sliced on the diagonal into coins on the diagonal (I don’t peel and I like the carrots about 1/4 or half inch so they don’t get too soft)
1 t cumin seed
optional protein: a chicken breast, or some filet or flank steak, or pork tenderloin, sliced very thin
a carton of sliced mushrooms
rice wine vinegar
3 bell peppers (I like one red, one yellow, one orange) sliced into vertical strips
1/2 t white pepper; salt
knob of fresh ginger, peeled
1 large zucchini, halved vertically, then sliced into thin half coins
1 lemon or 1 lime
4 green onions, sliced horizontally, white and green parts
handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
Cooked rice for serving
*NOTE: easy additions:
sliced bok choy
Snow peas or snap peas
water chestnuts and/or bamboo shoots (for that classic American Chinese food feel)
Mix the sauce ingredients well. You will have more than enough. It saves for a few weeks in the fridge.
If using protein, right before you start your sauté, put the sliced protein in a bowl and pour a little sauce over, just enough to cover, and toss.
Heat a few glugs of olive oil over medium-low heat in your widest pan.
Add the red onion, fennel, celery and sliced chili. Sauté slowly to maximize the flavor. In about 8-10 minutes when they are soft, add the sliced garlic. Cook only a minute or two, never let the garlic brown.
NOTE: while you don’t need to hover over this dish, stir a lot at every stage.
Add the carrots and cumin seed. Stir and sauté five minutes.
*if using protein, add here, stir and cook a few minutes.
Add the mushrooms, a few shakes of fish sauce and a few shakes of rice wine vinegar. Turn the heat up to medium. Mushrooms can give off a lot of liquid so I turn up the heat to burn off the liquid.
While the mushroom stage cooks, take your knob of ginger and grate/rasp it over the stir-fry. Stir to incorporate. (ginger from a jar will work in a desperate pinch)
Add your peppers, salt and white pepper. Stir and sauté a few minutes. Keep tasting… what else do you need?
Add the zucchini and stir. After a couple of minutes (get the zucchini to your desired crisp/soft level) add just enough sauce to cover the vegetables. You don’t want this swimming in sauce and you can always add more.
Turn the heat to medium high and let simmer and bubble until the sauce is warm.
Turn off the heat and toss in the green onions and celery leaves. Mix well. You are ready!
Put a scoop of rice in a bowl. Add the stir-fry. Squirt with lime juice and sprinkle the chopped fresh herbs on top.