Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stir fry: cheap, good, easy meal

What you make for dinner, or lunch or breakfast, will affect your grocery budget. As I've been striving to minimize what we spend on food, without sacrificing nutrition or taste (or texture), and apart of that is finding recipes that lend themselves to being made cheaply.

I am also a bit of a lazy chef, so its got to be easy.

And versatile -- if I have to have some specific ingredient for a recipe, I'm less likely to make that recipe one of my staples. Unless its something I just about always have around, like onions. Otherwise, there's got to be some possibility of interchange.

On an aside, I saw a post once that said to save money in the kitchen to use less of the "flavor" veggies, like onions. Use half, instead of a whole onion. True, the flavor will be similar, but if you don't mind onions, onions are CHEAP. I use them regularly to "beef" up a dish. Onions serve nicely as cheap, flavorful and not bad for you filler.

So, stir fry. No, this is not a typical Chinese stir fry (I did live in China, I should know), nor is it a typical Chinese-American restaurant style stir fry (can you say 'complicated'!). This recipe (if you can call it that) is based on a recipe from and another from Everyday Food (a Martha Stewart magazine). This recipe is extremely flexible and is good for those times when you have 3 to 5 veggies in the fridge that need to be used, but only 1/2 to 3/4 a cup of each (when chopped up).

I even took pictures while making it!

Rachael's Stir Fry (which Hubby loves, so it can't be all that bad, right?) makes about 5 cups of stir fry enough for about 5 servings. If you need bigger servings, add more rice. Need less stir fry, use less meat and fewer veggies.

1. Make rice. Rice cookers make this so easy. Even on the stove its not that bad. Need instructions? See the end of this post.

2. Cut up your ingredients.
     A. Meat -- you can use chicken, pork, beef, or whatever protien item you'd like to include. I, in general, refuse to eat dinner without a meat of some sort. Chicken and pork tend to work the best, as they handle the quick, high heat cooking the best. If you like meat, have up to 2 cups of sliced and diced meat. You can slice the meat into thin strips (and keep them thin, and not longer than about 2 inches), or you can dice it into 1 inch cubes. About 1 cup of meat is a good balance if you have veggies to fill out the stir fry.

     B. Veggies -- you want about 3 to 4 cups of diced, sliced and chopped veggies. I always have sliced onions, sometimes minced garlic, usually chopped carrots, often chopped broccoli, and some sort of leafy green. I've found that cabbage keeps for weeks in the fridge, and that has become my go-to stir-fry leafy green. If you are using something like spinach for your leafy green, keep in mind that its "fluffy" and so you'll start with more cups of veggies than if you used cabbage or other tightly packed leafy green.

3. Mix up your sauce.  You need flavor and you need liquid. I aim to have 2 cups of liquid total, but we like lots of sauce. If you want your veggies to have a bigger role (beyond roughage and filler) you might make less sauce. For 2 cups of sauce, I add to my 2 cup measuring cup about 1/3 to 1/2 cup soy sauce, then fill to 2 cup line with water or broth (chicken broth if you are using chicken or other lightly flavored protein, or beef broth if using pork or beef). Add spices -- I like to use turmeric (careful, it will color whatever it touches) and cumin, about 1 TBSP of each. If you want it spicy, add crushed red pepper, or other hot powder. Mix well.
The measuring cup is soy sauce plus water, and I'm using chicken base to make it "broth".
turmeric and cumin, some of the most awesome spices ever. At least for stir fry. yes, I buy cumin at Sams because I use so much.
 4. Cook the stir fry. Ha, ha, you say. This akin to saying "cook 'til done".

Okay, grab a large skillet, or even a wok if you have one. Add some oil. About 2 or 3 tbsps worth, you don't want to have to add oil later. Turn the heat on high to get that oil nice and hot. Turn the skillet around and around till the oil has coated the bottom and up the sides a bit. Toss in your meat, and cook till the outsides are nice and done. The meat won't be cooked through, but that's okay. 

Then, add in the veggies that need the longest to be cooked. For example, onions, garlic, carrots (unless you want crunchy carrots). Stir it all around, letting the veggies cook. Then, add in stuff like cabbage, celery, and broccoli and let that cook for a bit, stirring regularly. Finally, add in those veggies you want nice and crispy, like sugar snap peas. If you are using a fragile leafy green, like baby spinach, DO NOT add it yet.

Right after you add that second batch of veggies, add 2 or 3 tbsps of corn starch to your sauce mixture. Stir well, and keep it swirling till you are ready to add the sauce to the stir fry, otherwise your corn starch will settle and get thick on the bottom. When that second batch of veggies have cooked and softened just a bit, pour the sauce into the pan, and keep stirring. And keep stirring. Don't stop till you see and feel the sauce thickening up and coating the veggies and meat.

5. The rice should be finishing up about now, but if not, turn off the heat and put the lid on the pan. Serve up, piling the stir fry onto a bed of rice. If you are using a fragile leafy green, like baby spinach, mix it in just before serving (otherwise it gets too soft if cooked to long).

It might not be "restaurant quality" in the visual category, but its pretty darn good.
Hubby loves this even as leftovers. We package up rice and stir fry, he adds more red pepper flakes and its a self-contained, single container, even-has-some-veggies lunch for the next day.

Making Rice -- 
In a rice maker: measure your rice into the rice maker. Add 1 1/2 cups of water for each cup of rice. Turn on rice maker. Should be ready in 20 to 30 minutes. 

On the stove: measure your rice into a large pot that has a lid. Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water for each cup of rice. Turn stove onto med. high, when water comes to a boil, turn stove to low and put on lid. Let cook till water is just about gone, about 20 minutes.

As a note -- more water means more sticky.

Instructions should also be on the package of dry rice.


  1. Is the corn starch just to thicken up the sauce? I hesitate to use corn starch in any recipe, and wondered if I could use a substitute for it.

  2. Yep, corn starch is to just thicken the sauce. You can use flour as well, the process is much the same.

    Why do you hesitate to use corn starch? I'm just curious.


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