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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Real food, fast

I watched a cooking show once a long long time ago, and the chef (I think his name was Yan?) told me that when using my wok, the secret is to remember that it is "Stir-fry, not stare-fry. Keep stirring it, don't just watch it!" The trick is to crank the heat up all the way, and keep the food moving so it doesn't burn.

The high heat makes for quick cooking time, and that makes this meal perfect for a weeknight. Even a weeknight when you have to go to your kids' parent-teacher conferences, and you will only have a few minutes to get it all on the table when you get home, for example. You can do all of the chopping, and even some of the cooking ahead. As a bonus, it all cooks in one pot, so you will have very few dishes to wash.

Here's a fun story. In college, I had a roommate one semester who was an exchange student from China. All she unpacked in our kitchen was a wok, a cleaver, 2 sets of chop sticks, and a bowl. She was able to cut her food up, cook it, and eat it all with those four items. And everything she cooked was delicious. Even when she came home from the grocery store with a vegetable she had never heard of. "What's this?" "Celery." "Okay. It's good?" "I'm sure it will be when you are done with it!"

But anyway, here we go:

First, you want to chop up all of your vegetables and your meat. You will have a hard time constantly stirring, if you pause to chop in the middle of it all. The exact amounts don't matter. Event the seasoning can be approximated, which makes this very easy to cook.

Start by warming your oil in the wok, on high heat. Once it gets hot, add in a minced garlic clove, about a tablespoon of minced lemongrass, and a tablespoon of minced ginger.

Since you are cooking at a hight temperature, the seasonings will brown very quickly. As soon as they are golden, throw in all of your tougher, thicker vegetables. I used a shallot and two carrots, cut into 1/4 inch slices. You could also do broccoli, celery, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, etc. Whatever you have in your fridge is what you should use in your dinner.

Once the shallots are clear, you can add your meat. I used two chicken breasts, but you can add whatever you like. Keep stirring and cooking this until the meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

At this point, if you really do have a crazy schedule, you can pause and leave the rest for later. For example, you could leave it sitting while you head out to your parent teacher conference. If you are going to be gone for more than an hour, I would stick it in the fridge, but if it's a quick trip, just turn the stove off and go.  If you are going to a parent-teacher conference, though, I would either make sure you wear an apron, or change your shirt. That way, as you enter the classroom, you won't look down and see greasy garlic splattered on your front. Just a suggestion.

Now you are ready to add your leafy vegetables.

I very carefully picked out a variety of greens. Bear with me as I use their Latin nomenclature:

Clockwise, from upper left: red leaf with green stem, green leaf with white stem, red leaf with red stem, and green leaf with green stem.

Okay, I didn't really carefully pick them out. I got them out of my CSA box. Whatever they are. I am pretty sure the one on the top right is bok choy. The others? I have no idea.

Then I threw in another bunch of leaves for good times. This one, I happen to know for sure, is a beet green. I know this because I cut it off of the beets.

 You can use whatever type of leaves you want. If it wasn't picked out and delivered to me in my box, I would buy a head of bok choy or napa cabbage. Or even regular green cabbage. Do you still have half a cabbage left over from Saint Patrick's Day? Use that.

Don't spend time chopping these up nicely. They cook down so much that you can start with pretty big pieces, in any manner of crazy shape, and it will all make perfect bite-sized pieces in the end.

You may feel like you have a ton of greens, but it won't be soon. Here is my wok filled to the brim with the fresh chopped leaves:

And here is my wok a few minutes later, once I'm done cooking:

So, now that you have your wok filled to the tippy top of health and vitality, keep stirring. Cook this all until the greens are wilty but still green. That will take about 5 minutes. Then, put a lid on it, turn the heat down to low, and stir together some sauce. I used a tablespoon of soy sauce, two tablespoons of hoisin sauce, and a teaspoon of corn starch to thicken it all.

Once you have the sauce ready, stir it into the veggies and chicken, and serve it with quinoa or rice. Or if you are watching your carbs, just serve it as it is. 

Here is my recipe, if you care to try this at home:

Vegetable chicken stir-fry

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. minced lemongrass
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 shallot, chopped fine
2 carrots, chopped into 1/4" slices
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 head of bok choy
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin suce
1 tsp. cornstarch

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Once it is hot, add the garlic, lemongrass, and ginger. As soon as they are golden, add carrots and shallots to the wok. Stir these constantly until the shallot is clear and the carrots are tender (3-4 minutes). Add chicken, and stir fry until it is cooked through (5 minutes). Add bok choy, and continue to stir until the leaves are wilted, but still green (3-4 minutes). Turn heat to low, and cover.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and corn starch. Stir this into the vegetables and chicken, and serve immediately.