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Project Pantry: Vegetable Stir-Fry

Welcome to Project Pantry!

Right now in Florida, we are currently under an official stay at home order due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The announcement of this order inspired many people to rush back out to the supermarkets and stock up before it officially went into effect. As a result, many of us may be sitting at home with our pantries and refrigerators stuffed full of groceries in preparation of cooking meals at home.

So, now what?

Many folks are not accustomed to cooking at home very often and may be at a loss about how to turn the stuff they bought into actual meals.

In this new series called “Project Pantry,” I will share some tips – with the help of some of my Family and Consumer Sciences colleagues – about how you can use the things you have on hand to create healthy and delicious meals.  So be sure to stay tuned over the next several weeks so you don’t miss a thing!

Today’s easy meal: Vegetable Stir-Fry
veggie stir-fry

Stiry-frys are a super easy way to make a delicious meal in just a few minutes. They’re versatile, healthy, and simple. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension)

Pantry items that may be needed:
A variety of vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned) NOTE: typical veggies include carrots, peppers, scallions, mushrooms, baby corn, peas, cabbage, and celery
Flavorings (ginger and garlic are the most common)
Vegetable oil (for the pan)
Sesame oil (for taste)
Soy sauce or teriyaki sauce
Corn starch or flour
White or cider vinegar
Veggie broth or stock
Rice (white or brown)
Butter or margarine
Sugar (white or brown)

Tools that may be needed:
Stir-fry pan, wok, or large frying pan
Wooden spoon or spatula (for stirring)
Rice cooker or large pot
Measuring cups (liquid and dry)
Cutting board
Knife

Directions:
Add a small amount of vegetable oil to the pan. Heat over medium heat until oil shimmers and thins out. Add minced garlic and ginger (minced garlic-in-oil and sliced ginger in a jar work perfectly for this) to the hot oil and cook for 30 seconds.  Add sliced carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until they are crisp-tender.

NOTE: Crisp-tender means a little soft while still maintaining a good crunch. You don’t want the vegetables in a stir-fry to be mushy. Fresh or frozen vegetables work best in stir-frys. If using frozen, DO NOT thaw first.

Add peppers, celery, baby corn, and other hearty vegetables. Cook, stirring frequently, until they are heated through.

Add softer vegetables such as mushrooms, cabbage, scallions, or other greens.  You may also want to include ingredients such as water chestnuts and bamboo shoots for a more traditional spin.

Keep stirring frequently, adding a bit more oil if needed.  But only a little bit! The idea is to cook the vegetables quickly in as little oil as necessary to maintain texture and reduce the amount of fat.

NOTE: You must keep stirring frequently to keep the vegetables from burning. Reduce heat if you feel the food is cooking too quickly.

For the final touch, add stir-fry sauce. I like to use sesame ginger salad dressing and a little bit of sesame oil as a simple stir-fry sauce. However, you can make one yourself by combining equal parts soy or teriyaki sauce, vinegar, and sugar with some veggie broth or stock, a little water, a bit of garlic, and a little flour or cornstarch for thickening.

NOTE: I am not offering exact measurements for any of the ingredients because part of the fun is changing up the amounts to get a little different flavor every time. Just remember, for liquid ingredients, add a little bit at a time so the sauce isn’t too thin. Stir-fry sauce should be thick. If you accidentally add too much, add a bit more flour or cornstarch until the sauce is the thickness you want.

As a garnish, you may want to add a little bit of sesame seed or chopped peanuts.

Serve over hot white or brown rice, and presto! you have a quick a delicious meal.

You can easily turn this into a chicken or beef stir-fry by adding cubed or sliced chicken breast or beef to the mixture.

NOTE: If adding meat, cook it first. Remove it from the pan, cook the other ingredients as described above, then add the meat back in near the end to finish cooking.

The beauty of stir-fry is how easy it is to put together and how versatile it can be. There really is no wrong combination of vegetables, though for best results, use heartier vegetables. Vegetables such as carrots, celery, bell peppers, mushrooms, baby corn, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots hold up well during stir-frying without getting mushy.

For more information about the benefits of cooked veggies, check out this fact sheet from UF/IFAS.

For more recipe ideas, check out the rest of the Project Pantry series.

Any questions? Comment below!

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