Between a wok and a hot plate: a quick vegetable (and more) stir fry

“Worldly and amusing, and a gifted mimic, ‘Kip’ Fadiman was a successful author, critic, translator, columnist, publisher and broad­caster, valued both for his erudite charm and his good-natured wordplay (‘between a wok and a hot plate’).”

Anne Fadiman, Slightly Foxed

There are a number of dishes which are just made for using up leftovers: salad; pilaf; curry; risotto; soup….even omelettes and quiches can take all kinds of convenient fillings.  And then there is the all-purpose stir fry.

The only snag with the stir fry is that, unlike soups and curries, it doesn’t suit elderly leftovers. It’s better for spankingly fresh ingredients – glut from the kitchen garden, one’s own, or from a vegetable box. But on the plus side it takes just minutes to make, no hours of cooking, blending etc.

This isn’t really a recipe, it’s more of a technique. I’ve given lots of ideas for substitution, but the main concept is that a stir fry should harmoniously unite textures (if you can’t find sugar snaps, make sure you have a bit of crunchy carrot); flavours (if you can’t find sugar snaps, incorporate the sweetness with peas); and colour (red pepper is a very good source of ‘red’ – tomatoes aren’t too good in stir fries, they are too mushy). Pretty much essential, though, is garlic. As Fuschia Dunlop, writing in The Financial Times, comments:

“When you sniff the air above the wok as you sizzle chopped garlic in oil at the start of a Chinese recipe, you are witnessing a suite of chemical reactions in which unstable sulphur compounds react with one another, producing new flavours and smells.” 

The version I give below is a vegetable stir fry, but obviously very thin strips of beef go well, as do bits of bacon – fry these first to cook through, then add the vegetables.

The aim of this recipe is to offer another fall-back dish to the armoury of the busy foodie. It is NOT intended to be ‘authentic’, although there are two nods to the Asiatic roots: the use of the wok; and the soy sauce. Both make a huge difference to the result.

With regard to the wok, I use one with a flat base because, unlike in Asia, my hob is flat. I have invested (yes, invested… it’s expensive) in a Samuel Groves classic stainless steel tri-ply non-stick wok, a veritable Rolls Royce of woks.

For the soy sauce, I use the wonderfully rich and thick Lee Kum Kee premium dark (follow this link for more on that).

Over to you!

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