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Basic Asian stir-fry

Posted in Food & Entertaining

stir-fryI have been eating salad meals for far too long and I never quite enjoyed them. Salad is what I would order in a restaurant at lunch, or what I would prepare if I wanted to feel virtuous or any time I was on some diet or another: a bed of greens with an addition of a protein, other vegetables and a vinaigrette.

Have you ever really craved salad? My body might crave vegetables or a clean meal but I have never sat down to a table wishing I could have a salad. And yet, I make it, over and over.

In winter, when a cold meal is less of an appealing option, a stir-fry is my other go-to: fast, hot and perfect for emptying the fridge of any leftovers or about-to-turn vegetables. Recently, my stir-fries have been veering more and more towards Asian flavors, rather than dropping everythng in a pan and mixing it. I have been experimenting with gochuang, the Thai fermented chili paste or any soy and sesame based sauces I can get my hands on.

My new wok has been my inspiration. I can’t believe I waited so long to replace my old metal wok which was so big I would never extract it from its resting place to cook for one or two. I invested in a much smaller wok – a medium size that can comfortably fit a meal for four – and I have been putting it to good use, especially when I come home for lunch and I am pressed for time, or just famished. Some leftover protein gets paired with whatever vegetables I have in the fridge and, if I am lucky, a leftover starch. High heat and a few condiments always work their magic.

For the longest time, I stayed well away from Asian flavors but you can’t live in Los Angeles and not wish to experiment with at least some of the cuisines that are on every corner and, by this point, I built up a decent pantry of spices and condiments. So, yesterday, in 10 minutes I had lunch ready by simply chopping some asparagus, cooking them in the wok with some walnuts and adding leftover fish from the night before.

stir-fryThe entry point for Asian flavoring is the triad composed of soy sauce (or tamari), Mirin and sesame oil, which I prefer spicy. Equal parts of it make your basic condiment. Heat the oil in a frying pan or a wok, let it reach near smoking point and add your ingredients of choice. Add the soy sauce, the Mirin, maybe a pinch of sugar and some chili peppers, and a pinch of 5 spice powder. Cook on high heat and, in a few minutes, a meal has come together. Way, way more interesting than a salad.

To make your own 5 spice powder combine:
1 ts cinnamon
1ts cloves
1 ts fennel seeds
1 star anise
1 ts Szechuan peppers
All spices need to be ground

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8 Comments

  1. camparigirl
    camparigirl

    You are right, although I find that chilis in general obliterate taste in a way that Szechuan peppers don’t (also, when I grind them, I swear they lose some potency). But I can be accused of liking my food hot, as my mother points out every time I cook. My palate has definitely changed.

    April 28, 2016
    |Reply
  2. On a hot day when I am able to eat outside I do crave Salade Nicoise – also Tabbouleh which I could eat by the bucket load!
    However, I do agree that a ‘salad’ is not usually one’s first go-to idea of a meal.

    Glad to hear you have a new wok. Too big or too small is never right – like Goldilocks and the Three Bears you have to have one that is ‘just right’.
    Here in China there are umpteen varieties of wok on the market, but the preferred one seems to be an iron wok with one handle.
    Non-stick woks are not so popular, and there is a reason. The normal diet of Chinese/Vietnamese/Cambodians etc is quite low in iron. However, cooking in an iron wok adds just the necessary amount of iron to keep healthy – and then in Cambodia/Laos etc they use the Iron Fish – but that is a whole different story!

    The one thing all my Chinese friends have told me over and over again is that when stir-frying I should first ‘Choke the Wok’ – I wrote a blog piece about it here: https://herschelian.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/first-choke-your-wok-then-stir-fry/

    April 28, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I rememeber your post very well and it might also be, subconsciously, that reading about your eating adventures in China finally pushed me to take a trip to Chinatown and replace my wok. I will confess to buying a non-stick one with one handle (my original one was iron with two handles) under the counsel of the barely English speaking Chinese shop owner. And I love it! Salad nicoise – ok, I love it too.

      April 28, 2016
      |Reply
  3. For me, salad is always just a side dish – except for that one time I found a place that does interesting salads with quite a bit of variety in flavours and ingredients.
    I do understand the craving for vegetables, though, especially if I feel like I haven’t been eating very well recently

    April 28, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I have become so sensitive to how my body reacts to food that if I don’t eat enough vegetables for a couple of days, I can feel the cravings coming on. Who knew?

      April 28, 2016
      |Reply
  4. Nice and spicy! I much prefer hot food over cold food any day.

    April 28, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Me too. And spicy hot more often than not.

      April 28, 2016
      |Reply
  5. With sichuan peppers your 5-spice is going to be very hot. Although the heat of sichuan is different from that of chillies, in a numbing sort of way.

    April 28, 2016
    |Reply

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