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!
a quick vegetable (and more) stir fry
Serves – 5
- garlic and/or ginger, perhaps half a teaspoon of each, very finely chopped
- 2 peppers – can be any colour
- 1 packet – about 150g/6 oz sugar snap peas; or 150g/1 cup frozen peas
- 1 medium carrot, finely sliced… or a couple of baby turnips
- 225g/8 oz finely sliced mushrooms… or a chopped aubergine
- 1 small head of broccoli, or romanesco, or cauliflower; or bok choi or pak choi
- 1 tin (about 200g/8 oz) sweet corn OR the same amount of baby corn
- 300g/10 oz tin, packet or jar of bean sprouts, water chestnuts, hearts of palm
- 60 ml/4 tbsps/¼ cup rich, dark, soy sauce
- 3 tbsps soft brown sugar; or two of oyster sauce
- 120 ml/½ cup chicken stock (made with water (and maybe some dry vermouth, dry sherry or Shaoxin wine) and a stock cube)
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with a little salt (not too much because of the soy)
- 3 or 4 spring onions
- 2 tbsps sesame seeds or furikake…. Or chopped nuts… or dukkah
- Good slug of olive oil… or rapeseed and some sesame oil
- Pour a good slug of oil into the wok, get it good and hot and add first the garlic and ginger, stirring for about a minute, and then the vegetables (but not the spring onions). Fry for two or three minutes, stirring the while.
- Mix the cornflour with a little of the chicken stock until it’s dissolved, then add all the other liquids, the garlic and the sugar.
- Pour the liquid over the vegetables and stir – the sauce will thicken up thanks to the cornflour.
- Snip over the spring onions, including an inch (3 cms) or so of the green part. Serve with the sesame seeds sprinkled over.