Tag Archives: Chinese Food

A Delightful Stir-Fry

13 Dec

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.

StirFry ingredient line up

Stir-fry lined up and ready

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:

  1. the order in which you cook the vegetables
  2. 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. 

VEGETABLE STIR-FRY

(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

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

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

rice wine vinegar

fish sauce

a carton of sliced mushrooms 

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:

chopped broccoli

Snow peas or snap peas

water chestnuts and/or bamboo shoots (for that classic American Chinese food feel)

Directions

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, and 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. 

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. 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.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Food IN Film: Finally!

21 Mar

“On Food And Film”: it’s a blog about two of my biggest passions, with a sidebar here and there about other things. And while I have occasionally combined the two, my favorite being “In Praise of the Martini… and Diane Keaton” (love me some Keaton, goodness), I’ve yet to do a true Food In Film post.

So here we go.

When thinking food in film, an obvious choice is the wonderful movie Big Night. I learned quite a bit about cooking watching that movie and along with many other terrific food moments, the preparation, presentation and eating of the timbale/timpano will forever be in my mind. (I will also say I would be happy watching Isabella Rossellini eat for two hours, thank you very much.) Big Night is also a surprising movie, given things don’t work out the way you think they should at the end. This unusual resolution leads, however, to the remarkable final scene where the brothers, after a huge climactic fight, end up quietly eating together after Stanley Tucci prepares eggs. It’s a subtle and beautiful way to show their reconciliation and their continued love for each other as brothers. What an ending:

A movie doesn’t have to be about food to have a great food moment. Take Annie Hall, with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton laughing and squirming while trying to corral live lobsters into a pot. They are so charming. The scene is made even better, of course, by Allen’s pitiful and hilarious attempt to recreate the moment after they have parted, a very telling and incisive moment about the lengths we all can go to recreate what has been lost:

For true romance, the spaghetti moment in Lady and the Tramp cannot be beat. It’s the first movie I ever saw and my love for cinema, food and romance was cemented for life.

Meryl Streep’s manner of separating eggs in The Hours is a standout. After years of doing it a different way, I watched the scene in amazement and have done it Meryl’s way ever since. And I have to mention the “Christmas Dinner finale” in A Christmas Story, a funny and lovely way to end what was already a terrific picture. This final scene is beautifully shot and wraps the film up in a warm, enjoyable way. If you haven’t seen it, you will never eat duck again without thinking of this scene:

And all was right with the world.” Indeed.

The moment the bitter food critic Anton takes a transformational bite of the title dish in Ratatouille made me gasp out loud. I was not a huge fan of the film to that point (though I am a huge Brad Bird fan) so the moment snuck up on me completely. In just a few seconds Bird captures the breathtaking quality food has for so many of us. I watched that moment and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s it.”

It’s wonderful when a moment can capture your feelings that way. The above mentioned blog post is devoted to another similar moment: Diane Keaton taking a sip of a martini in Somethings Gotta Give:

These are all wonderful and continually resonate for me. If I had to boil it down, though, there are ultimately two standouts, one a quick moment, one an entire film. For the quick food moment in a movie, my favorite is the marinara prep in The Godfather:

How I love that! Even though we are amongst mafioso killers, this quick little moment captures so much about food, its preparation and family. My own family revolved completely around food, so the idea that even in the midst of such turmoil the Corleone family always keeps food in the forefront is a great one. And of course, it involves Clemenza. Ah, Clemenza. Clemenza is responsible for one of the great pieces of dialogue about food in a movie: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Finally, for a movie about food, I can think of no better example than Babette’s Feast.

 Babettes_feast_(1988)

This is a bit ironic, given the food that is prepared in Babette’s Feast is nowhere near as appealing to me as the food in, say, Big Night or Julie and Julia. But as the movie quietly, beautifully goes about its business, it gently sets up one of the most moving and remarkable endings I’ve ever seen. I won’t reveal the end or it’s incredibly rich themes here but rather encourage those who have not seen it to take a look at this beautiful film. What the movie says about food, art and redemption might make even the hardest heart burst into joy, the joy one can feel when eating an incredible meal, the joy we can feel when watching such a sublime movie.

What are your favorite moments? Click on comments and let us know!