Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Beauty of the Stir Fry

As a child, I was hopelessly ignorant to the ease and versatility of stir fry. I would come home from whatever after school activity had kept me occupied until dinner, smell the distinct aroma of sesame oil and groan. How could I have been so blind?

In my wiser, much more mature 20s, stir fry meals have become staples in my weekly menu. How much easier could it get? Vegetables, protein, rice, done! It really is a nutritious way to squeeze all the main food groups into one dish. If you're a chronic stir-fryer, as I am, I highly recommend investing in a good wok - it makes a world of difference when cooking!

Stir fry can also be a very economical way to feed a family. Though it's certainly not my favorite, you can use frozen veggies, white rice and chicken to come up with a low-budget meal that'll keep tummies full.

For me, the best part about stir fry is the sauce! I cheat a bit here and use store-bought sauces, but that's just because they're so good! Trader Joe's has an amazing selection of stir fry and other Asian sauces that make it quick and easy to add flavor and spice. If you like to cook with tofu, you may have trouble with flavoring. I like to cut the tofu into pieces, scatter on a baking sheet and cover them with some of the sauce. Stick that in the over at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes and the tofu will stay firm and flavorful when it gets mixed in with the other ingredients.

You can also vary the type of rice you use based on your specific taste. I prefer brown rice because it gives an almost crunchy texture to the dish. But you can also use plain white rice. If you want to get adventurous, you can explore the worlds of jasmine and basmati rice. Jasmine rice is typically served with Thai food and is more aromatic than regular rice; it also has a stickier consistency. Basmati rice is often used in Indian cuisine and has a different aroma than jasmine, sometimes compared to the smell of popcorn. Any of these choices will liven up your stir fry dish.

Here are a couple of my favorite stir fry combinations:

- Bok choy, bamboo shoots, chicken, Japanese eggplant and Trader Joe's Yellow Curry sauce
- Extra firm tofu, broccoli, sugar snap peas, carrots, bean sprouts and Trader Joe's General Tsao's sauce
- Green beans, beef strips, yellow squash, carrots, zucchini and teriyaki sauce

Still need some inspiration? Try these recipes:
Asian Stir Fry with Spring Peas
Stir Fry Sweet and Sour Egg Strips
Cabbage Stir Fry
Lemon Chicken Stir Fry