By reaching for the wok instead of the casserole dish, you're on your way to a healthy solution to rescuing a bin full of expensive late winter veggies from an army of colorful microbes.
It also helps us get a handle on the variety issue at a time of year when the creative side of our brains is kicked into overdrive to avoid the broken-record choruses of "Broccoli, again!?" at the dinner table.
Not that broccoli shouldn't be a part of your stir-fry repertoire. But right now the asparagus from California, although dear in price, is affordable when used sparingly. And what about a smattering of snow peas, red bell peppers, mushrooms, sweet onions and zucchini?
Other ingredients destined to create a bit of wok bliss are hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts (a great thing for crunch), red cabbage (which is sturdier and more flavorful than green), eggplant (it absorbs all the other flavors nicely), a sprinkling of hot red pepper for kick, mung bean sprouts, and perhaps some chunks of tofu or tempeh.
If you need to flesh out that vegetarian feast, this would be the perfect time to thaw that single chicken breast or pork chop you keep shoving to the back of the freezer until you've assembled three more of its kind. Sliced thin, it will harmonize with rather than overpower the other ingredients.
I also find roasted garlic cloves to be particularly tantalizing in a stir-fry. When baked at a moderate temperature for about an hour, garlic becomes relatively harmless -- from a dragon-breath perspective -- and actually achieves a mild, almost buttery texture and flavor.
When tossed in with a panful of other ingredients, the effect is marvelous.
The only step remaining is the addition of a dynamite sauce to meld all those fresh flavors into one presentation.
Indeed, it's the ability to create several well-executed, simple seasonings that can stretch those limited produce picks into weeks of exotic dishes.
The following sauces are as versatile in nature as they are flavorful in character.
Even though this first recipe produces an excellent Chinese dumpling sauce, it makes an equally wonderful stir-fry sauce.
It's based on a dumpling sauce I used to be able to buy from one of my favorite restaurants, China Blue. But the restaurant changed hands and no longer offers the original version. By luck, however, I ran into one of the former owners and she shared the basic ingredients used in the sauce.
With that information, I've been able to cobble together my own spicy dumpling sauce.
1/4 cup soy sauce (or Kikkoman's Tempura Sauce, if you can find it)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar (omit sugar if using the tempura sauce)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
In a small saucepan, whisk together the soy sauce, water, vinegar, sesame oil, red pepper flakes and sugar. Simmer for 3 minutes, then remove from heat. In a small dish, whisk 2 teaspoons of corn starch into 1 tablespoon of water. Scrape that mixture into the sauce, whisking constantly, then place the pot over a medium-high burner and stir until thickened; remove from heat.
Makes about 2/3 cup of sauce (the sauce freezes well).
This sauce is delicious with fresh broccoli, onions and mushrooms.
Sesame-ginger stir-fry sauce
1/2 cup Kikkoman's Ponzu (citrus seasoned soy sauce & dressing)
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup salad oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot Chinese mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, but good)
Combine all of the ingredients. Will keep in refrigerator for several months.
Yields 11/4 cups sauce.
A delicious sauce for dipping or stir-fry!
Teriyaki stir-fry sauce
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup salad oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
Grated peel from 1 lime
Combine all of the ingredients. Will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
Yields about 22/3 cups sauce.
Originally designed to go with fried pork, this actually makes a nice sauce for stir-fry dishes. Neither too sweet nor too sour, too thin nor too thick, this is an excellent base for all sweet and sour dishes.
It may be made in advance and reheated just before using.
Simple sweet and sour sauce
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, if desired
4 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry, or whatever dry white wine you have on hand
3 tablespoons catsup
1 large clove garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1 cup well-drained canned pineapple cubes (optional)
Mix together the sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce, sherry, and catsup, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. In another dish, after dissolving the cornstarch in the water, add the sesame oil. In a pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, add the garlic and saute briefly. Pour in the sugar-vinegar mixture and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture, then slowly add the 1/2 cup of water, stirring until the sauce is smooth and bubbly. Stir in the pineapple chunks, if using, and heat through.
Yields about 13/4 cups (not including pineapple chunks).
Adapted from "The Key To Chinese Cooking," by Irene Kuo
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
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