Although I’m always complaining about not having time to make dinner, it really isn’t that difficult to pull together a decent dinner if the kitchen is stocked. This stir-fry dinner took less than 45 minutes to make, and it was delicious! I made a black pepper beef stir-fry, a ginger chicken stir-fry, and a simple seaweed soup. It ended up being way too much food, but Jimmy was more than happy to bring the leftovers to school the next day.
The fantastic thing about stir-fries is that the pattern is always the same: hot pan, hot oil, fragrant ingredients, hard vegetables, meat, soft vegetables, season, cornstarch, adjust seasoning, plate, and garnish. At times, you’ll have to change a step or two, depending on the dish, but you can always rely on the pattern to turn out a good dish—even if it’s not quite what you were aiming for!
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Start by making a pot of rice. Depending on how you cook your rice (on the stove, with a rice cooker), it may take more or less than half an hour to cook. If you manage your time wisely, everything will finish cooking at the same time (other than the stir-fries).
Next, chop up your vegetables. Going clockwise from the top: minced garlic, sliced onions for the chicken dish, slivered ginger, sliced red peppers, sliced green onions, chopped green onions, and more sliced onions for the beef dish. I used these ingredients to make two dishes: black pepper beef and ginger chicken.
The key is lots of garlic!
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Seaweed (Laver) Soup
I cheat with my soups because I never plan on having soup until just before I start cooking. I use powdered chicken broth (the Asian kind with TONS of MSG) as the base of my soups. I know it’s bad, but it’s a quick way to get dinner on the table without having to simmer a pot of bones for hours.
Start boiling four cups of water in a pot. Add half a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of chicken broth powder. For an optional boost of flavour, add a few squirts of fish sauce. It will round out the flavour.
Once the water boils, cut a piece of laver that is a little larger than your hand. Using scissors, cut all of this into little pieces into the soup.
Turn down to a simmer, and crack an egg into the soup. Stir the soup a few times to make sure that the egg doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Just before serving, stir in the chopped green onions, and ladle into a large bowl.
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Black Pepper Beef Stir-Fry
When beef goes on sale, I buy a large roast, slice it up thinly for stir-fries, cube the fatty and chewy bits for stew, and freeze them flat in individual portions. That way, when I need beef, I just thaw out what I need in a little bit of warm water. Because I pack them flat, they defrost a lot quicker, and I find that it saves more space in the freezer.
Anyway, I thawed one serving of sliced beef for this stir-fry.
Start with a hot pan and a teaspoon of oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the minced garlic and half of the onions. Fry until fragrant and add the red peppers, taking care not to burn the garlic.
Once the onions begin to soften and release their liquid, crank the heat up and toss in the thawed beef.
Season the dish by adding a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, a generous spoonful of black pepper, a squirt of dark soy sauce (just for colour), and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. Stir-fry until evenly coated. Toss in the rest of the onions.
In a small dish, combine a teaspoon of cornstarch with two tablespoons of cold water. Mix well until there are no lumps, and add it to the pan. Stir the ingredients quickly, to prevent lumps from forming. The sauce should be a little slimy, but definitely not pasty.
Taste the sauce, and adjust seasoning (oyster sauce, pepper). Once it tastes good, plate it and top with sliced green onions.
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To ensure that I always have chicken pieces for stir-fries, I do the same thing as the beef—buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs on sale, slice up into bite-sized pieces, pack flat in individual portions, and freeze. Super convenient.
For this dish, I used two servings of chicken, which turned out to be too much. I’ve got to remember to make smaller dishes, so that we’re not left with containers full of leftovers.
Heat up a pan with a teaspoon of oil. Fry the garlic and ginger until it becomes fragrant. Then toss in the onions.
When the onions begin to soften, add the thawed chicken pieces. Sprinkle salt and pepper, and add a tablespoon of oyster sauce. This time, I also used a teaspoon of regular soy sauce, which darkened the dish too much. It didn’t change the flavour much, just the colour.
Stir-fry until the onions are translucent. Add a teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in two tablespoons of cold water. Adjust the seasonings if necessary.
Transfer it to a plate, and serve hot with steamed rice.
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Black Soy Milk
To complete this Chinese dinner, we drank ice-cold black soy milk. The soy milk is refreshing and cooling. My dinner turned out a little greasy, so this helped tone it down a little.
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As I mentioned above, this dinner took about 45 minutes to pull together. It’s absolutely essential that you have your ingredients ready, and your seasonings ready to go. Otherwise, you’ll overcook the stir-fry while you search for other things. The actual cooking time in a stir-fry is only five minutes, and no more than ten minutes, so you have to be on top of everything.
However, once you master the rhythm of stir-frying (hot pan, hot oil, fragrant ingredients, hard vegetables, meat, soft vegetables, season, cornstarch, adjust seasoning, plate, and garnish), the variations on dishes and combinations of ingredients are endless!