About 17 years ago, a dear friend of mine whom I coached on a women's soccer team, talked to me about how she wanted to lose weight. She was the teams goalie and figured it was time to lose the baby weight she was having issues with. She also assured me exercise would be part of the plan she had to put in place. D mentioned she knew I cooked at a fairly high level, so I told her I would help her with the way she ate.
The dish she was most interested in (as I believe we touched base on this briefly once or twice before this discussion) was the stir-fry. I was in pretty good shape at the time playing rugby, coaching soccer and running three or four times a week. She had asked how I helped myself stay this way. I told her simply, "Exercise and the way I eat."
Eating is the simple part as you have to do it multiple times a day. Don't kid yourself: you have to do it more than once a day if you want to stay healthy. Eating four or five times a day is extremely important. This is only possible if you are eating properly and your portions sizes are not super-sized. But this can be discussed another day here.
In 1992, I started to try and elevate my cooking skills and knowledge. Along the way, I found out what the stir-fry could do for me. There are about 100,000 ways to make this dish as there can be so many ingredients to which the dish can be brought together with. I would make it differently as many times as I could, but I still stuck with my basic principles. If you or I made the same dish everyday of the week the exact same way, no matter how good it was for you, we would grow sour with it very quickly. The key is to use different ingredients, but still make it the same way. I know this looks like a lot of information, but once you start getting used to it, there shouldn't have any problems. It is very easy to make this.
My basic principles are:
- Plan ahead by cutting your some of your vegetables and store them in the fridge. This is very important if you are short on time. Do anything and everything you can to ensure you and your family eat well at every meal. I usually only do this with sturdier vegetables such as carrots and broccoli, the ones which require the most work to prepare.
- I would only use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or grape seed oil. At that time (and where I lived) these were the only options available, but there are many other oils out there now which bring a healthy element to the dish and have a high enough smoke point to accommodate the heat. Be careful of EVOO though. It's smoke point is quite low, but the health benefits are hard to ignore (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=132).
- Use a big sauce pan if you don't have a wok. The only way I would use a wok was if I had a gas stove.
- Start by adding the oil to a hot pan over medium-high heat. Add any spices like cumin or curry first to flavour the oil. This will flavour everything around it easier than adding it later on. Doing this also adds a nice smoky flavour to the spice.
- Start by cooking the thicker, heavier vegetable first, like carrots, broccoli stalks and onions. Cut the carrots at a diagonal to expose more of the inside to make it cook quicker. It's alright to let your carrots start to turn color or even brown, but not burn.
- Add heartier spices such as rosemary or oregano at this point and a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper. The salt will help the vegetables release their juices. If you want to use cayenne or a chili pepper, add it now.
- When the onions are translucent, add the lighter vegetables at this point such as peppers, broccoli florets and chopped asparagus. Garlic and chopped ginger should go in now as well. This would also be a good time to add meat like chicken or pork if you choose to use it. If you are adding asparagus, cut with a rolling cut. This will help it cook quicker and pick up more flavour. To do this, make a diagonal cut and roll it 1/4 turn to make the next cut, as seen below.
- Add a little more sea salt to keep the green vegetables green and to make more juices come out. This will help the stir-fry make it's own sauce. I will sometimes add a little water or fresh juice here, like lemon or lime if I am cooking with chicken, or apple to add a nice background flavour. This will help steam the ingredients. Put the lid on and turn down the heat to medium-low. If you are using spinach or another leafy vegetable such as bok choy, kale or Swiss chard, put it in now. If you want to use shrimp or some other kind of seafood (except squid, add it at the end with about 1 or 2 minutes to go), add it now.
- After about 5 minutes, take the lid off. Add lighter herbs here, meaning basil or thyme. This way it will not kill the flavour if you put it in too early.
- Now is a good time to add sesame oil or something like this to add another background flavour. I sometimes used oyster and/or soy sauce but found it had too many things in it I didn't want to ingest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oyster_sauce). You really do have to read the labels on foods and sauces you buy to make sure you are not ingesting Styrofoam or plastic these days. Besides, I would rather make my own sauce any day over buying one. Buying a sauce off the shelf means you are eating something in which you have no idea what's in it. Make your own and you will know!
- Sprinkle finely chopped parsley or cilantro over top and stir.
- I always follow one rule when it comes to serving this dish: If it has meat in it, serve it alone. If it doesn't have meat in it, serve it over curried quinoa, basmati rice, pasta or rice noodles. I always make sure I don't mix meat and starch if I'm trying to keep the fat off. This combination can be hard to digest as it is very heavy. Sometimes I do eat pasta with meat sauce (and love it!), but don't make a habit of it.
So, you see it's easy to make a stir-fry and it's also easy to use almost anything you want. Just learn to cook your ingredients the right way. There is a way to bring out the most flavour from whatever you are using in your dish. I just told you how, but remember, every pan and every cook top will be different. Figure out how yours work together the best and go for it.
Adding different spices is not a bad idea, but be careful. Some spices don't play well with others. If you're confident about something and you want to try it, do it. Some people may like a cinnamon stick in a stir-fry. What the heck, I might even try this! Cinnamon is good for you! Some might even like a little nutmeg. If you are using squash, this would work. It's your recipe, so do what you want. Just remember to try and keep it healthy.
- Quinoa is like most rice grains, double the water to the amount of quinoa. I put it in the pan to toast it a little first before I add the water on medium-high heat. This adds a nice, nutty flavour. You will know when to add the water when you can smell the nutty aroma.
- Add the water and it will be ready to boil almost right away. When it does boil, add 1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or as much as you'd like) for every cup of water you are using. Serve on a plate and spoon the stir-fry over top.
Little O's Menu
As I mentioned yesterday, O has teeth and is starting to utilize them more often now. Different kinds of pasta are going down well (whole wheat and regular) and so is what the pasta is being served with. This week, I will make pasta primevera for us and her as well. My version is pretty much just pasta with roasted vegetables, herbs and spices. I have to watch out for which spices I use with her though. She isn't a big fan of any heat, which I don't blame her for at all. I slipped up and accidentally fed her some veggies with a little chili involvement. Oops! I felt so bad as they were supposed to be for me, not her. She only had a couple of bites and expressed her extreme displeasure with my mistake. I fed her a little yogurt and she was back to her little old self again.
We are also getting to the point where we are going to try and step up her tomato consumption. I think her stomach can start handling more and more now without the acid issues which may come with young, little tummies. This will help her a great deal in fighting off any illness or disease which may come along due to the lycopene. The human body needs help with lycopene as it does not produce any on it's own (http://www.familynutritiononline.com/Health%20Articles/tomatoes_benefits.htm). Anything to help our family out in the health department is a step in the right direction.
Quote of the day:
"Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it."
- S.J. Perelman - Jewish-American humorist, author and screenwriter (1904-1979)
Until next time, good eating everyone.