Sunday, 28 July 2013

Stir-fry ~ a meal in a pan

This version of a stir-fry meal is a popular one in our household: it's tasty, nourishing and simple to prepare.  How closely it resembles other people's stir-frys I don't know, but it works for us so here it is:

Preparation time - about a quarter of an hour.
Cooking time - about a quarter of an hour.

I start by assembling a selection of ingredients and then chop the vegetables.  It really doesn't matter what vegetables are used - our stir-frys vary depending on the season and what happens to be in the pantry.  Below you can see tofu, carrots, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, frozen peas, and on the small saucer garlic and fresh ginger. The five larger dishes are dessert plates.

I took this photo when I was preparing a meal for two of us recently.

Here is a more exact description of the ingredients and what I did with them, but three steps come first:
(1) In one cup:
  • Soy sauce - about a tablespoon 
    • I didn't have any on this occasion, so I substituted a teaspoon of Vegemite
  • Mix either of these ingredients into about half a cup of hot water
(2) In another cup
  • Cornflour - 1 tablespoon 
  • Mix with half a cup of cold water (cold so that it doesn't go lumpy)
Set these to one side.

(3) Boil a kettleful of water so that you have plenty of hot water for your rice or pasta.

And now for the main part:
Put a couple of tablespoons of oil into a large frying pan and heat slightly before using it to saute (lightly fry) the...
  • Onion - 1 - chopped
  • Garlic - 1 - 2 cloves - finely chopped
  • Ginger, fresh, if you have it - about a teaspoonful finely chopped
Add to it and cook until lightly softened
  • Mushroom, button - a few medium-sized
Now add
  • Carrot - 1 - cut to your preferred size and shape.
  • Peas, frozen - about two thirds of a cup
  • Cabbage -  enough for the two of you
Turn all this over in the pan briefly to combine everything and then...

Add the soy sauce and hot water as prepared above.  You'll probably need more water - just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan nicely and provide sufficient steam for the veges to cook but not enough to immerse them.  Put the lid on but keep an eye on it to be sure that it cooks evenly and doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan.

This is a good time to put the pasta or rice on to cook. 

Once the veges begin to soften stir in...
  • Cornflour as prepared above.  You need enough to take up runny liquid and lightly glaze veges.  If it all goes gluggy add a little hot water gradually.
  • Tofu - 200 grams - cut into chunks.  I add the tofu last so that it doesn't go mushy with stirring.  If you don't much care for tofu it's possible that you haven't had the good stuff.  I get mine from Asian Groceries in St Kilda - it is the best I've come across anywhere! 
  • Check the seasoning and add a little more of what you fancy if thre is a need for anything else.  
  • I am, in general, nervous of chilli in any form, but must say that a small amount of chilli sauce can add something special to otherwise rather ordinary flavours.  About half a teaspoon per serving is my upper limit, and please note that this is sauce - not chilli powder, which is more potent.
By the time you've done this the veges are probably done.  I like them best when they are still a little firm, but this is a matter of choice and easy to adjust to suit your preference.  

A word about co-ordinating cooking times for the veges and pasta or rice: I find it's easier to stand the veges for a minute or two rather than the pasta or rice, which really need to be served right away.  

Bingo, you are done!  Here is my meal just before I started.  It was perfectly delicious!  And yes, that's a glass of milk next to it.  When I was growing up we always had a glass of milk with our dinners, but in those days it was a subsidized food and cost four cents a pint.  How fortunate I was!  Those days are long gone, but I still like a glass of milk with my meal. 

The success of this meal depends more on cooking times and seasoning than the choice of ingredients.  Under-seasoned, over-cooked and watery it could only be described as a flop, but get the other factors right and it is very good indeed!

Cooking rice and pasta:
  • The dried pasta shown in the photo above takes 12 minutes to cook, just as it says on the packet.  This means 12 minutes at a brisk boil.  I like to buy this brand as the flour used is described as durum flour, which is the traditional flour used in pasta and is high in protein and low in gluten.  (Maybe all pasta on our supermarket shelves is made from durum wheat - I'll have a closer look next time I go shopping.)
  • Only recently I figured out how much dried pasta to put into the pot: I measure the weight on the scales.  200 - 250 grams is a good amount for two adults. 
  • Adding salt to the boiling pot will flavour your pasta.  I put in about one teaspoon per 100 grams.  Preferences will differ.
  • After you have drained the pasta (I used a sieve) the addition of a dash of oil will prevent it from sticking to itself, although it you serve it all immediately this isn't necessary.
  • White rice takes about the same length of time.  I like the absorption method, which means that by the time the rice is cooked all the water it has cooked in will have been absorbed.   The ratio recommended for this is usually two cups of water to one cup of rice, but as none of my pot lids fit all that well I start with three cups of water to one cup of rice.  One teaspoon of salt per cup of rice works suits my sense of taste.
  • White rice is not as nutritious as wholegrain rice as nourishment contained in the outer fibres has been removed.  I have got out of the way of using it for no good reason.  Wholegrain rice does take longer to cook so its use requires a little more forethought. 

Storing that fresh ginger:
The best way I've found to store this excellent vegetable is in a glass jar in the fridge. 

Fresh ginger isn't as 'hot' as powdered ginger.  It has a somewhat different flavour and adds a certain piquancy to stir frys.  It can also have a transformational effect on lightly cooked cabbage: try a teaspoon or so of it finely chopped, and add with about the same quantity of butter or vegetable oil - delicious!

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