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In these early days of spring, thoughts of food rush to the freshest ingredients, brightly colored meals and options that won't keep you in the kitchen for hours. These are stir-fry days!
Stir-frying offers a cook the option of using fresh or frozen ingredients and lots of wonderful seasoning blends. It's not unusual for one meal to call for sweet sherry, robust sesame oil, salty soy sauce, tangy rice vinegar and spicy red chili paste. The Oriental method of stir-frying embraces the blending of flavors that Western minds have often regarded as at odds. However, few can deny that when these flavors are brought together in a high temperature wok with the right blend of veggies, meat and tofu they add up to shear bliss.
Some things are essential for making great stir-fries. Here are a few oriental essentials that I am never without in my kitchen:
dark sesame oil
red chili paste
dried whole Japanese chili peppers
Chinese five spice blend
crushed red pepper
canned water chestnuts
With some of these treats in your pantry, spice cabinet and refrigerator, your next stir-fry is only a creative splash of inspiration away!
Leftovers lend themselves well to stir-fry dishes. The lightly steamed broccoli from last weekend's fondue party finds itself at home with a sweet and spicy pork combination. Thinly sliced steak from your last late-night barbeque can compliment a combination of pepper strips and sesame seeds. Cocktail shrimp from the appetizer spread you had before a trip to the theatre can be reincarnated as a Sichuan-style dish that will make your mouth sing. It's all up to you.
Just about anything can end up in a stir-fry dish if you plan carefully. Some of the combinations that have found their ways to my table include:
Country ribs cubed and stir-fried with snap peas, chopped onion and strips of red pepper covered in a smoky red pepper sauce
Strips of grilled chicken stir-fried with broccoli florets, dried red peppers and sliced green onions in a citrus sauce
Shredded pork roast stir-fried with frozen peas, strips of carrot and multi-colored chopped pepper in a soy-mustard sauce
When it comes down to it, the rules are simple: Pick your favorite foods and cook them quickly in a wok or deep skillet and add the sauce/seasonings of your choice. You can serve your masterpiece over rice or on its own. The more you include stir-fry dishes in your repertoire of dinner options, the more you will find that it's okay to add some leftover chicken or artichoke hearts (!) to the mix.
To get you started on the road to incorporating leftovers into your stir-fry menus, I'm including three of my favorite stir-fry recipes. Feel free to use leftovers when possible, but they are all also great when made "from scratch".