Tag Archives: vegetables

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!

 

 

 

Cookbook Night

12 Sep

My good friend Tiffiny Federico is a great cook. She’s a better cook than I, frankly. Tiffiny is also a schoolteacher. When in school, she has very little time. About 5 or 6 years ago, bemoaning our inability to spend quality time together, we came up with an idea: have a cooking day where we could hang out in the kitchen, cook some food, drink some wine and catch up. 

We decided if we were going to cook all day, we might as well try all new recipes. Tiff and I give each other cookbooks at Christmas. One of the cookbooks we exchanged that year was The Gift Of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Neither of us had cooked from it, so we decided to cook solely from that cookbook. Because we were going to end up with a lot of food, we invited some friends over that night for a casual dinner. Everyone could try out the dishes we’d made for the first time.

“Cookbook Night” was born.

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View from the backyard into the kitchen.

It was such a hit, we did it again. And again. We now do it once or twice a year and have cooked our way through some wonderful books such as Sunday Suppers with Lucques, The Mozza Cookbook, At Home in Provence, etc. Once we land on a cookbook, Tiff and I get together a week early (and make dinner, natch) to pick our recipes from the book we want to explore. Usually we pick 4-6 recipes each, choosing a good variety from appetizers, entrees, sides and dessert. We do some prep before the actual event, then the day of Tiffiny comes over in the morning, we cook all day and have people over that night to sample. There is no fear of anything going wrong, every dish is new and no one cares how it all turns out. We’ve had some incredible dinners, however.

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I highly recommend this, it’s a fun way to try a bunch of dishes, adding new winners to your repertoire. And you can have a great time with good friends. We now open the kitchen to everyone late afternoon in case anyone wants to sous chef or hang out with us as we cook.  The rest show up around 6 and we dive in. The entire day and night is a blast.

It also creates one hell of a mess. But that’s fun, too.

kitchen aftermath1013254_10151808218472517_1317568463_n

This summer we actually had two cookbook nights. We started in June with Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Jersusalem

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Preserve Me A Lemon!

21 Jun

I have two bountiful lemon trees in my backyard. I love these trees and what they provide. While I use lemons most every day – in drinks, in marinades, in salad dressings, as a flavor enhancer in all kinds of dishes – I still get overrun with crazy lemons! As weird as it may seem in other parts of the world, when you live in Southern California, it gets hard to pawn off fruit. People show up to work with bags and bags of lemons, oranges, etc and usually everyone just yawns.

plums

Monday at work, from someone’s tree… these were amazing plums.

Given my lemon bounty, I started looking for ways to use the extra. I discovered my favorite a few years ago: Preserved Lemons. Preserving lemons is so easy, and the result so wonderful, there is always a big jar of preserved lemons in my fridge. Besides extending the life of the fruit, preserving lemons make the entire lemon edible. In fact, the rind becomes the best part to use, though everything in the jar, once preserved, is terrific for cooking. Preserved lemons keep nearly forever, so you don’t have to rush to use them, a wonderful perk. But use them you will, I assure you.

I’ve tried many methods for preserving lemons. The easiest I’ve tried, which is also the best, is from Patricia Wells, a wonderful woman about whom I wrote last year. I was able to spend a week with her in France a couple of years ago, a week that remains a highlight for me. During the trip I cooked once on Julia Child’s original stove from her home in France. No, seriously, I did.

I thought we were talking about lemons…

Use this method, it’s perfect. I usually double the recipe, given I am constantly overrun, but this will give you plenty to start. All you need is a pile of lemons (8-10), some course sea salt, and a container with a non-metal lid:

Preserved start

For the recipe and more info, click:

 

“Never, Ever, Ever….” Vol I

7 Apr

According to The Internet, which is never wrong, salad dressing probably kinda/sorta came into being about 2000 years ago when the lovely people of Babylonia began to use oil and vinegar to dress lettuce. I’m glad someone started the trend. See, I’m a rabbit: I not only love salad, I love just lettuce. All kinds of lettuce, every kind. I even love iceberg lettuce, such great texture, what a wonderful crunch. While I love eating all kinds of lettuce naked, I also love a good salad dressing. This leads to the first in a series subtly entitled “Never, ever, ever!”

Never, ever, ever buy salad dressing in a bottle. Ever.  

There’s only one reason to think you should buy salad dressing in a bottle, which is ease. Come on Tom, seriously. I don’t have all kinds of time. It’s so easy. I pick it up at the store, I crack open the bottle, I pour it on some lettuce, instant salad. 

Um, No.

With a little initial prep, almost the same amount of ease gives you a dressing that is much healthier than anything you can get in a bottle. So making it at home makes much more sense. Plus, it tastes infinitely better. Trust me, do this once and you won’t go back. You have to go to the store to buy the bottled dressing. Instead, while at the store, buy a few of products to have on hand for prep and you are ready, anytime, to make your own dressing. Eventually, you won’t even be able to use a bottled dressing as you’ll begin to taste the chemicals and processing. Making your own salad dressing, along with broth, an upcoming post, and tomato sauce, an upcoming post, are the easiest first steps to transforming your cooking, kitchen and eating habits. Plus, I’ll say it again, homemade dressing tastes so much better. You don’t have to love cooking or being in the kitchen to ease your way into your own dressing. And my homemade vinaigrette is, well, incredible. And versatile… it’s great on it’s own but you can also use it as the basis for a number of other dressings. It’s so easy. Here we go:

Click here for the how to!