Autumn roots make quick, easy stir-fry suppers
The Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone. November is waning. This year, our garden is deep under a layer of frost and snow.
Before the cold came, we dug up our root crops and stored them in a box filled with sand, in a cool place in our garage that does not freeze. In our makeshift root cellar, we have carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, daikon radish, celeriac and kohlrabi.
Root cellars or cold storage have been used for generations to keep crops like potatoes, onions or carrots. This is how our grandparents sored food for winter before the age of refrigeration, cross-continent transport and chemical food preservatives. If the temperature and humidity conditions are just right, these vegetables will keep for months.
Roots make wonderful stir-fry suppers. Once considered exotic fare, today stir-fries are ubiquitous in shopping mall food courts as well as Chinese restaurants. But they’re easy to prepare at home, and the meal is ready in minutes. Just put on a pot of grain (like rice or quinoa) or pasta to go with the dish. By the time it’s done, the meat and veggies will have finished cooking.
Stir-frying is a quick, easy way to incorporate all those tasty, healthy roots into your dinner menu. Fresh, tender-crisp vegetables, chunks of lean meat, fish or tofu, and easy, zesty sauces combine for great flavor. You can make a variety of different meals by varying the types of protein and vegetables in the dish.
Stir frying is healthy. This technique cooks food quickly in a minimal amount of fat. Stir fries are generally heavy on vegetables, with a little meat thrown in for flavor. A medley of colorful veggies is nutrient rich as well as visually appealing. Combine sweet vegetables like fall squash, sweet potatoes and carrots with sharper flavors like turnips or cauliflower. The veggies are crisp tender and not overcooked, so they retain many vitamins and nutrients and are high in antioxidants.
No wok? Don’t fret. A large skillet will work just fine. It should be large enough to hold all your ingredients with enough space to stir.
In addition to fresh veggies and protein, a key component of a stir-fry is the sauce. Sure, you can buy a jar at the supermarket; but it takes just minutes to whisk your own. You can keep it basic and simple or add flavorings; it’s up to you. The basic ingredients are soy sauce, cornstarch, and a bit of oil. Asians use sesame oil, but I’ve used olive oil or another cooking oil. Other liquids and flavorings are often added – these include broth, wine, vinegar, sweeteners (like honey). Traditional Asian flavors include garlic, ginger, sesame seed oil and rice vinegar. The ingredients are versatile and substitutions are easy.
I like to use broth (meat or veggie) and wine, but in a pinch, you can just add water. For a sweet-sour flavor, add a little vinegar and sweeten with honey, sugar or agave. Others like to add fish sauce or oyster sauce. For the thickener, arrowroot powder or cornstarch is common; I’ve also used potato starch or flour. It all depends on what you have on hand. For a half-pound of meat and 4 cups of veggies you will need just a half-cup of sauce.
Traditionally, stir fries are served with white rice. Experiment with using whole grains like brown rice, barley, millet, or quinoa. You can also serve them over pasta for a different twist.
Here are the basics of making delicious stir=fry. If you prep all the ingredients ahead of time, the actual cooking will take just minutes.
1. Make up the sauce in a jar; shake to combine. Set aside. When possible, I like to make the sauce early in the day and marinate the meat in it in the fridge. Other times, though, I just put it together at the last minute and skip the marinating.
2. Prep the veggies you plan to use; you can even add fruit if you wish. Wash and chop. Cut them into pieces that are roughly the same size and not too thick. Set aside. Remember that you will want to start with the longest-cooking veggies and end with those that need just a minute or two to keep their crunch.
3. Choose your protein: raw or leftover meat (turkey, chicken, pork, beef); Tempeh, tofu or shrimp.
4. Choose and prep flavor ingredients – peel and chop garlic, ginger, turmeric; peppers, if you like yours hot; or use powdered seasonings.
Choose your grain, combine with salt and water and begin to simmer (rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, noodles, cauli-rice.
Heat oil. Use high heat. When using chicken, I brown it fist, then remove and add in later. Add the onions, and mushrooms or peppers, if using. Then add the root veggies along with garlic, ginger and turmeric. Remember, the harder the vegetable, the longer it will need to cook. If you’re adding sprouts or tender greens, they go in last.
Stir constantly; this ensures everything cooks evenly. Don’t wait long before adding the next ingredient. Take a bite once in a while to test for doneness and flavor. It’s a good idea to reset the timer every couple minutes as a reminder to test and stir.
The dish is ready when the veggies are crisp-tender, before they get soggy. Greens are done as soon as they wilt.
Oriental Radish & Chicken Stir-Fry
Simple Stir Fry Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth (or white wine, or veggie broth, or water)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2/3 cup grain, salt, water
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1/2 pound boneless chicken, sliced thin (or 2 cups cooked diced turkey or chicken)
Salt & pepper
1 cup white Daikon radish or white salad turnip, sliced julienne
1 cup watermelon radish, sliced julienne
1 cup thinly sliced carrot
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup minced onion (about 1 large)
1 to 2 cups chopped or shredded greens (daikon and carrot tops, kale, etc.)
1 clove garlic, minced
A little turmeric (1/2 to 1 teaspoon, minced)
Combine first three ingredients in a jar; shake and set aside.
In a saucepan, combine grain, water and salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cook until tender.
Heat oil in large skillet. Add chicken, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and stir-fry 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat. Remove and set aside. If using cooked chicken, omit this step.
Add radishes, and stir-fry three to fourminutes. Add carrot, and stir-fry two to three minutes more. Add mushrooms and onion and cook about five minutes. Add greens, garlic and turmeric, if using. Lower heat, cover, and cook two to three minutes.
Stir in reserved chicken and sauce. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender and meat is cooked through, five to seven minutes. Serve over grain such as millet or rice. Serves two to three.
Pork and veggie stir-fry
2 boneless loin pork chops, about 8 ounces
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons rice wine or other wine, optional
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced fresh turmeric
3 large cloves garlic, minced, about 1 1/2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 small carrot
1 cup thinly sliced fennel (bulb and stem)
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
Salt & pepper
With a sharp knife, cut pork into very thin strips. Try cutting it in half horizontally, then down into matchsticks.
In a small bowl, mix pork, soy sauce, wine, ginger, garlic, turmeric and red pepper flakes.
Combine broth and cornstarch in a bowl, and stir to distribute cornstarch.
Slice leek in half, wash to remove sand, and slice thin. Cut parsnip, carrot, turnips and fennel julienne, or shred coarsely.
Heat a wide skillet or wok over high heat. Add oil, and heat until it shimmers.
Add vegetables to skillet; season with salt and pepper, stir-fry about 2 minutes, tossing to coat with oil.
Add reserved meat and seasonings, and stir-fry until pork is cooked through and vegetables are crisp tender, about 5 more minutes.
Stir broth mixture again, then pour into skillet and stir until it boils and thickens, one to two minutes. Serve with rice or another grain.
Serves three to four.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet:
Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.