"What's for dinner?"
We all know a little planning is involved to best answer this question, especially if you are cooking with fresh ingredients and eating at home (which we hope you are!).
But what do you do on those nights when the plan has failed, or unexpected life circumstances kick in?
Say hello to this one quick dinner trick has saved us many, many times...
...it's stir fries!
Why stir fries?
Stir fries are among the most versatile meals and can save you from dinnertime insanity! Basically, a stir fry is a fast way to cook small pieces of food in a hot pan or wok.
- They can be made in less than 30 minutes...now that is our idea of "fast food!"
- Provide a fantastic combination of veggies, protein and complex carbs! Because stir fries are cooked for a short time over high heat, the veggies retain a substantial nutrient content.
- Ideal way to include more veggies and plant-based meals in our routine! Studies show the more plants we eat the healthier we are....the more fruits and veggies, grains, beans, and seeds we eat, the more disease fighting fiber and antioxidants we get to benefit from. And, did you know that you can get all the protein you need from plants? It's true!
- Perfect way to clean out the frig! It is a great way to use random vegetables such as that 1/2 head of cauliflower, handful of bell peppers, 1/2 onion, or the remaining bag of frozen sugar snap peas.
- A variety of vegetables taste even better in stir fries! By moving them quickly with a minimal amount of oil, it lets them retain their bright color and crisp, tender texture.
- Leftovers (if there are any) make a great lunch the next day (or can even be enjoyed for breakfast with an egg on top)!
Throwing together a quick stir fry really is simple -- use these tips for the best results!
- Use a good pan! A good wok or cast iron skillet work best because they hold the heat evenly.
- Have your ingredients ready. When using high heat, the process goes really fast. Chop your veggies and have your ingredients ready before you start cooking -- it makes it so much easier.
- Size matters! Cut all veggies into similar bite size pieces...this will help everything cook evenly.
- The right oil. Since stir fries are typically cooked on high heat or medium high heat, oils with high smoke points are best (check out our oils coaching tip, which includes a grocery store tour, for more info). Toasted sesame oil adds excellent flavor, but it is best added at the end to avoid the high heat.
- Enjoy meat as "a condiment." Even moderate portions of meat, as little as one ounce or two per person, can be filling, provide excellent flavor, and keep your stir fry healthy and nutritious. And, if using red meat, slice it thinly against the grain for extra tender results.
- Marinate your meat! Of course, this is completely optional, but marinating meat for a few hours, or overnight, will add more flavor. Even marinating for 5-10 minutes (while you are prepping the veggies) will add some extra flavor.
- Hard veggies first. It's important to cook veggies such as carrots, peppers, cauliflower and broccoli first, because they will need to cook longer than softer veggies such as zucchini and tomatoes.
- De-glaze the pan -- using liquid such as broth, wine or even water, will help loosen those delicious golden bits from the pan, which will add more flavor.
- Don't salt too early. Adding salt before the end of the cooking, will actually draw out moisture from the food.
- Keep it moving! Remember, with stir fry dishes, you want to stir frequently and keep it moving (thus the reason it is called "stir fry"). And, add your sauce and your whole grain at the end.
- Caution -- many bottled stir fry sauces are very high in sodium. There are some great alternatives to these sauces that you can use at home...including spices, fresh herbs, low sodium broth, nut butters, citrus zest and many others. Find more ideas in our homemade dressings coaching tip, including our favorite Thai sauce!
Simple steps to a great stir fry:
- Marinate meat (if desired).
- Cook pasta or rice or other whole grain.
- Chop vegetables and have everything ready.
- Add oil to the wok or skillet over high to medium high heat.
- Cook veggies first, stirring frequently. Start with hard veggies (like broccoli and carrots) and then softer veggies (like mushrooms and tomatoes).
- Add aromatics (like garlic, ginger and onions), continuing to stir. If you add these before the veggies, they are likely to burn.
- Add meat and cook for a couple minutes, until cooked through.
- Add your liquid or sauce.
- Top with fresh herbs and 1-2 tsp of toasted sesame oil if desired for added flavor.
- Serve or spoon stir fry mixture over rice (or other whole grain) and enjoy!
In some recipes, it works better to cook your meat first, and then remove from the skillet or wok and set aside. You can then cook your veggies, and then add the meat back to the skillet, followed by the liquid, fresh herbs and sesame oil. You can experiment to find the approach you like best.
A wok is a crucial part to an excellent stir fry...how do you choose a good wok?
You know the saying, "you get what you pay for?" We all know this typically means you need to spend a little bit more to get a good quality product...but, this doesn't always apply to woks! You don't have to spend a ton of money to have a great wok. There are lots of great options, such as stainless steel, aluminum, or copper. Carbon steel woks are an excellent option, and fortunately, they are very affordable.
Carbon steel woks tend to work best because they heat up quick and evenly. They are durable and inexpensive and, if well cared for, will develop a nice nonstick surface. Even experienced Asian chefs love carbon steel woks.
Flat-bottom woks work better at distributing heat than round bottom woks. And, having a wok with a lid will come in handy.
Woks also come with a choice of handles, either 2 short handles or one short and one long handle. The version with one short and one long handle can make flipping and handling the wok easier.
Keep in mind, there are some tips on how to season and clean a carbon steel wok.
Make dinnertime a breeze!
- Sweet and Sour Chicken Stir Fry
- Peanut Cabbage Stir Fry
- Sweet & Sour Chicken Stir Fry
- Szechuan Tempeh Stir Fry
- Cashew Chicken Bok Choy
- Asian Beef with Peppers
- Thai Vegetable Noodle Stir Fry
- Zesty Shrimp Stir Fry
- Spicy Orange Chicken
- Mexican Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry
- Jalapeno Mango Chicken Stir Fry
- Kale and Coconut Veggie Stir Fry
- Cauliflower Stir Fry
- Sausage and Vegetable Stir Fry
Do you have a favorite go-to stir fry?
We always to love to see your creations!