Ginger vegetable stir fry, the perfect vegetarian dish to serve over rice, or a side to an Asian meat dish.
Asian flavour bombs
There are some simple combinations in the repertoire of Asian condiments and spices that can take your breath away, and I don’t just mean hot chilies.
Anything that comes sweet and salty must have been made in heaven – again, it’s not about salted caramel.
I’m a self-confessed MSG junkie and I cheer enthusiastically to hear how recent research deems it innocent of causing cancer, hot flashes and rickets.
There’s a combo of soy sauce and butter which I’ve discovered recently. Make sure you use unsalted butter which I always would, unless spreading a pat on fresh bread. Add soy sauce to mushrooms sautéed in butter and you’re in heaven.
Sweet chili sauce beats ketchup as the partner for mayo thus making the best sauce for fish and seafood.
And any boring vegetables can be zinged with a little oyster sauce and sesame oil.
OS & SO
Broccoli, the king of boring vegetables, can be boringly steamed and then souped up with a little OS and SO (they even look good together as acronyms) over a flash of high heat.
Carrots, cauliflower, anything, will taste immeasurably better when dunked in OS and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. And if your vegetable drawer is getting super empty, you can shred and stir fry whatever remains, hit it with OS/SO and enjoy a surprisingly good vegetarian dish.
I like to stir fry veggies as a side to not-necessarily-Asian mains like fish or steaks but this recipe works as a good veggie main too, to be served over plain rice or noodles. No MSG included though, whether you consider it a good or a bad thing.
Stir fry in the bag?
I know what you think: ‘just go and get a prepared pack of veg for stir fry, girl’. That’s not going to happen in my house, ever, and it shouldn’t in yours.
The cost will work out as probably twice as much as a single carrot, a bunch of pak choi and some mushrooms.
Then, there’s always the suspicion they bleach prepared vegetables and salads in bags. Furthermore, there’s the bag itself which is plastic, however much they protest its recyclability.
And finally, you never know what you’re gonna get in a mixed bag – it’s a mixed bag after all. When you cut the veggies yourself, you’re the master of the mix.
How to cut vegetables for stir fry
But how to cut them into neat strips without spending the day in the kitchen or considerable knife skills? One solution is a food processor with a julienne attachment.
Another – and that’s my favourite – a deadly kitchen tool called mandolin with a toothsome blade. It works beautifully and you can regulate the size and thickness of the vegetable strips too. Just make sure you wear protective gloves!
But I bet you have a vegetable peeler, perhaps a double sided one, the serrated edge of which you never knew the use of? That’s the julienne slicer which works great for carrots – and let’s be honest: it’s just the carrot in a stir fry that needs a special treatment. Peppers, greens and mushrooms can all be sliced with a knife easily.
It isn’t the spices or the MSG though that makes authentic stir fries taste, well, authentic. It’s the wok breath, wok hei, the precise combination of screaming hot wok surface, just enough oil and the ingredients added in the correct order and quantities.
There are spectacular fails in stir frying department unless you know what you’re doing.
Too cold wok and food will stick to it abysmally. Too much added at once and the vegetables will steam rather than stir fry. Too much oil – and you end up with a fry-up.
I can say by no means I’m accomplished, but following these simple rules makes more often than not for a moderate success.
How to stir fry vegetables?
First rule: have everything sliced, chopped, grated and ready in separate dishes. I know, one wok, so much washing up but I swear it’s worth it.
Start with the aromatics – in this instance dried chillies then ginger. Take care – when dried chillies hit the wok, fumes might knock you over.
Aromatics will take only a few seconds to release the flavours and then you can start with the vegetables, one kind after the other, starting with the toughest. So depending on what you use, begin with carrots, peppers or/and mushrooms, adding and stir frying briefly only one type at a time.
Continue with semi-hard broccoli, courgettes or water chestnuts and end with greens, by which time, if you were good, you should have the whole stir fry singed but crunchy and no liquid generated in the wok.
The final stage is adding the sauces, oyster, fish and/or soy. Sesame oil is used to flavour the dish, not to fry it so it should be stirred in off the heat.
A sprinkle of sesame or my favourite mix of sesame and nori flakes, furikake, and the stir fry is ready to pile over steamed rice or soaked noodles.
More stir fry recipes
Sweet and sour duck stir fry with pineapple and red peppers topped with duck scratchings. Skinless duck breast is used in the stir fry and the skin makes crispy topping.
Spicy potato salad with bacon and cucumber. This is an excellent salad of spicy bacon and cucumber, mixed with new potatoes and served warm. Cured pork appears often in Chinese cuisine, here paired with Sichuan pepper and chilies.
Sizzling beef in black bean sauce: a spicy oriental stir-fry with tender beef strips and mixed vegetables. The choice of vegetables is yours, the beef is cooked very quickly - only sizzling in the wok - and the spicy black bean and sweet chilli sauce complements the flavours.
More Asian vegetarian recipes
Spicy stir fried asparagus, cooked in a wok with chillies, ginger and garlic, is a great starter or a side dish bursting with Asian flavours.
Stir-fried cucumbers Asian style, with ginger, garlic and a pinch of chilli. Spicy but also refreshing which is logical as cukes are 96% water.
Yu xiang aubergine, Sichuan stir fry in fiery sauce. With added crunch of almonds and tartness of cranberries, it’s the best aubergine dish ever.