Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

How to Make a Fabulous Stir-Fry

By Robyn Webb, MS, LN

The stir-fry is the essential quick and healthy dish. While its roots remain firmly Asian, this method of cooking has been adopted around the globe precisely because of its flexibility and simplicity. It uses only a small amount of oil, packs in a heap of veggies, and can accommodate a broad range of ingredients. A good stir-fry is a meal in itself, but if you want to add rice, just watch the carbohydrate count (and go for brown rice, or soba or udon noodles, for a healthier choice).

Note that a lot of the work in stir-frying is in the preparation. After you cut up your ingredients and mix your sauce, the cooking will go very fast. Plus, once you master the basics, you'll be able to improvise like a pro.

Related Recipes

Stir-Fried Chicken With Red
Peppers and Broccoli

Stir-Fried Shrimp With Snow
Peas and Carrots

Orange Hoisin Sauce
Sweet and Sour Sauce

1. Protein

Make the meat (or fish or tofu)

Great stir-fry candidates include chicken, shellfish (especially scallops and shrimp), beef, pork, extra-firm tofu, and tempeh. The marinade should combine an acid, like soy sauce or rice vinegar (or both), with a thickener like cornstarch or arrowroot. The thickener is used to "velvet" the protein, keeping it tender. The acid breaks down some of the protein fibers in meat so it won't become tough. With shellfish, however, you can skip the marinade and just coat lightly with flour. After marinating, heat oil in the pan, and lay in the protein. Using (preferably) a long-handled, flat-bottomed wooden spoon, stir quickly and constantly until cooked through. (For tofu, which is a bit delicate, you may want to use tongs.) Then remove it to a plate on the side while you prepare the other ingredients.

1. Cut protein into bite-sized pieces.

2. Marinate it for at least 15 minutes in a bowl or plastic bag in the refrigerator.

3. Place your wok or skillet on the stove. (A wok is better because its shape is designed for this kind of cooking; a cheap one works just fine.) Dribble in a teaspoon or two of canola oil, peanut oil, or a vegetable oil blend. Do not use olive oil, which can burn. Heat the oil on medium-high or high. You'll know it's ready if you splash a few drops of water onto the pan and they dance on the surface.

2. Aromatics

Spice it up

Vegetables like garlic, ginger, scallions, lemongrass, and shallots are the aromatics that create a flavor base for the stir-fry. After removing the protein from the wok, add a very small amount (1 teaspoon or so) of oil to the pan and stir-fry a spoonful or two of finely chopped aromatics. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds (and no more than a minute) until they begin to release their aromas.

1. Peel and grate fresh ginger with a microplane or ginger grater.

2. Mince a scallion or a couple of shallots.

3. Chop up a pair of lemongrass stalks.

3. Vegetables

Lay on the color

When choosing vegetables for your stir-fry, you'll want to think about not only texture and flavor but also color. It's best to stick to no more than four veggies and to limit the number of shades, for two reasons: It's prettier that way, and if you use too many different items, it can be tough to time the cooking. As with the proteins, you should chop the veggies into bite-size pieces. Some vegetables, including carrots and cauliflower, benefit from being blanched for a minute in boiling water before stir-frying. And here's a trick to make broccoli look and taste its best: After a minute of stir-frying, add a couple of cups of broth or water to the wok, cover the pan, and let the broccoli steam until the florets are bright green.

1. Stir-fries are a great way to bring different kinds of vegetables into your diet. For example, a variety of interesting mushrooms can add depth and meatiness.

2. There are several types of bean sprouts, which can be stir-fried or added raw just before eating, for crunch.

3. Cabbage (here, Napa and red cabbage) cooks easily and can add visual interest, too.

4. Bok choy, one of many Asian veggies now popular in the United States, is a stir-fry staple.

4. Sauce

Bring it all together

Yes, you can just sprinkle some soy sauce over your stir-fry, and it will taste good. But a little more prep and you can have something wonderful. A homemade sauce begins with about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of an acidic liquid (like chicken or vegetable broth or citrus juices), 1 to 4 Tbsp. of a prepared sauce like soy, hoisin, or oyster sauce, and around 1 Tbsp. of a thickener (usually cornstarch or arrowroot). Other options include adding alcohol, like wine or sherry; citrus zest; or a teaspoon (or less) of sesame oil. After you return the cooked protein to the vegetables in the wok, pour in the sauce, stirring until it thickens and is coating the protein like a glaze. Remove to a dish, top with a handful of crunchy add-ons—like bean sprouts, peanuts, or chopped cashews—and you're ready to serve.

Even when you're making your own sauce—such as Sweet and Sour Sauce (left) and Orange Hoisin Sauce (right)—you'll most likely be using a prepared sauce as a base. Typically this would mean soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin, curry paste, or fish sauce. If you can't find them in your local supermarket, try an Asian market (where they may be cheaper, to boot).


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