Make A Stir
Four stir-fry recipes for easy weeknight dinners
Four stir-fry recipes for easy weeknight dinners
Stir-frying is such a familiar cooking method that you might be surprised to know it’s a relative newcomer to the American culinary scene. It was only in the 1970s when the food media first overflowed with articles about this “new,” fabulous, quick and healthy way to cook. Zillions of recipes appeared, mostly for Chinese food, because stir-frying has always been an essential technique in Chinese cuisine, where it’s known as chao, or, for Americans over a certain age, “chow” as in Chow Mein, which literally means “stir-fried noodles.”
I learned how to stir-fry in the 1970s at the China Institute in New York City under the guidance of the illustrious cooking teacher and food writer Florence Lin. The basics remain the same today as they were then: toss the ingredients quickly with a spatula in a rounded pan as you fry using high-ish heat.
Inevitably, stir-frying went from trendy to tried-and-true and changed to suit the American palate.
“It’s an extremely versatile way to cook,” says Roberta Scher, executive editor of Koshereye.com and food columnist for The Jewish Georgian Newspaper. She cooks a stir-fry “at least once a week because it’s such a quick and delicious one pot meal” and says that “even though stir-frying is a Chinese specialty, it is a natural for the Jewish home kitchen – you know, historically Chinese cuisine is very popular with American Jews!” She prepares Chinese dishes but ventures way beyond to recipes as diverse as Italian Pasta Primavera and Japanese Salmon Ramen Stir-fry, a family favorite that’s lush with tender cubes of fish and a sweet hoisin-teriyaki sauce.
It’s also easy to understand why this cooking method has become so popular with young families. Gillian Fein, creator of family meal planning apps, including Lala lunchbox (note: she’s my daughter) says it is one of the most helpful techniques for working moms with school-age kids. “As a busy parent with three children, I’m drawn to recipes that come together quickly and easily for my family, especially on weeknights. And especially recipes that can double as lunchbox leftovers.”
She prepares dozens of different stir-fry recipes but the family favorite is a chicken dish with a Mexican flavor. It contains both protein and vegetables, making it healthy and well-balanced. Sometimes she lets the kids scoop the food into taco shells or she accompanies the dish with steamed rice or salad. The leftovers make a fine next-day lunch – the kids are fine that it isn’t hot -- placed inside a bento lunchbox in a leakproof container.
In addition to its other benefits, stir-frying can be economical and mindful about the earth. Susan Barocas (@susanbarocas), a food writer, teacher and public speaker on Jewish history, reminds us that “stir-frying is a good way to use leftovers and not waste food. Do some fridge foraging for bits and bobs of leftover vegetables, proteins, noodles, and rice. Then stir them together over high heat, adding a sauce, even something simple like soy sauce, perhaps with a little sesame oil, garlic and ginger. I always have jar of black bean garlic sauce in the fridge, which is great for pulling together a dish quickly.”
I’ve been stir-frying since the 1970s for all of these reasons. There’s even more though. As far as I am concerned, it is the most efficient way to cook. In fact, the strategies for stir-frying that I learned from Madame Lin so many years ago are so brilliant that I use them as appropriate for every type of cooking and so I am passing them on to you:
1) Get out all your ingredients and tools before you cook, including any thickening mixtures such as cornstarch and water;
2) organize the ingredients into separate containers so that you can easily and quickly add them to the pan;
3) be sure to cut an ingredient into same-sized pieces so that they cook evenly;
4) preheat your pan before you add any ingredient;
5) add a minimal amount of oil to the pan;
6) for maximum flavor, always stir-fry seasoning ingredients such as garlic and ginger before you add other ingredients; and finally
7) clean up as you can, as you go so the mess won’t seem as awesome when the dish is done.
Dinner needs doing nearly every night. Your kids’ lunchbox needs filling (or a grownup needs a nosh of leftovers). You have a few nibbles and bits and pieces of food you hate to trash. And you want a way to make a delicious, quickie meal in a most efficient manner. That’s what stir-fries are for. Make one tonight! Here are four recipes to consider.
Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at RonnieVFein.