Food & Nutrition: Vegetables and stir-frying
Posted: 06/25/2012 at 1:15 am
Food & Nutrition
In more ways than one summer is here. It has been hot and also very dry, and some of our local vegetables are early.
I can’t encourage you enough to eat more vegetables; I have not found any research to say that you can over eat on vegetables. We have already been enjoying yellow summer squash and zucchini in a number of recipes.
One of the easiest ways to prepare vegetables for your family is in a stir fry. So you may ask, “What is or what does stir fry mean?” To stir fry is to cook small bite-sized pieces of vegetables and meats quickly over high heat in a very small amount of oil. The cooking technique sautéing and stir-frying are basically the same. The difference between the terms is primarily cultural. The stir-fried preparation technique reflects the Chinese palate which includes many vegetables and little meat. There are key words in the definition that are important: high heat, small pieces, very little oil.
When you are stir frying, the foods are cooked by both the heat of the pan, the oil and the other foods that are being cooked. The name tells you what you should be doing when you are cooking. The ingredients should be stirred in the skillet or pan almost constantly during the cooking so the food doesn’t stick and it cooks evenly. This is also why you want the pieces to be similar sized.
Stir frying is one of the best ways to maintain nutritional value and preserve the colors, flavors and textures of foods. Your cooking pan can be a skillet, a pan/skillet, a Dutch oven or a wok. When I am stir frying, I prefer my pan skillet or a wok. When I have used a skillet, I often have stirred food right out of the skillet. A wok is slope sided and deep and may require less oil than does a sauté skillet. My favorite is really what I call my pan/skillet; it is a skillet that has deeper sides than most skillets but not as deep as a pot. Please don’t worry about what you’re stir frying in, just stir fry.
The plus to the less oil means that stir-fried foods are healthier for you and have fewer calories than fried foods. Each piece of meat collects in the bowl of the wok or skillet and is quickly seared and cooked. Stir frying can also be prepared in your electric skillet; I just wish the sides were deeper. Some references mention that the skillets require more oil but I have not found this to be true. I just work really fast and keep stirring.
Stir-frying is much healthier and not near as messy as frying and is so simple and good for you. Like most cooking you do a lot of work before you are cooking and enjoying the food. Keep in mind that the cooking happens quickly in stir frying, and having your food ready is a must. The speed of stir frying requires that the slicing, chopping and dicing be done in advance. I have also found it helpful to have spices ready and to blend sauces and thickening ingredients.
For the best results, heat the wok or pan/skillet first and then add the oil in a thin stream around the outside of the pan. As the oil slides down the hot sides it both heats to the best cooking temperature and oils the sides of the wok which keeps the food from sticking. I like to keep oil in a small squirt bottle. This helps from getting too much in the skillet. If you do get too much use a paper towel and blot the extra out of the wok.
You can be as creative as you like and use your favorite local fresh vegetables such as zucchini, onions, carrots, green peppers and peas. You can also use canned items like water chestnuts and bamboo sprouts. The meat you use can be beef, pork or chicken (cut into narrow strips). I cook the meat first and then start adding the vegetables that require the most cooking first. I like to add the seasoning while cooking the meat so the seasoning blends with the meat. Bottom line: It just smells really good. You just add the ingredients and toss and stir until it is all done. Once the vegetables and meat are done, then you can add a corn starch glaze with more seasoning. Enjoy these veggies!
Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.