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How I like my veggibles…

September 8, 2009

…cooked, but still pretty crunchy, never boiled, brightly coloured and brightly flavoured, not drowned in sauce (except maybe…cheese..sauce), but seasoned enough to bring out the individual flavours and complement them well.

If you like your vegetables this way too, but haven’t yet tried doing so on your own, then this is your lucky day. Gather round, for I be sharing my super simple, highly versatile, top secret way of getting stir fried vegetables perfect.


Zo’s guide to getting to the peak of vegetable perfectiondom.

Ingredients needed:
Cooking oil
possibly a splash of water
or two, depending on what veges you use
extra optional additions (just some suggestions, don’t use the lot obviously):
seeds (esp. sesame), flavoured oils (eg. chilli, garlic, or sesame oils), pepper, light sauces (eg. light soy sauce, oyster sauce, or even a light chicken stock), freshly roasted nuts (these go in the oven while you’re cooking the veges), herbs, spices (eg. cumin), finely chopped garlic…

Equipment needed:
cast iron or regular frypan, or a wok with fitting lid (no need for non stick, unless you’re adding meat to the mix)
a heat-proof cooking spoon or spatula or large wooden spoon (never use metal on non stick pans)
a decent chef’s knife or cleaver, and chopping board

The basic method I use is a combination of steaming & stir frying. The only bit of stir frying you really need to put a thinking hat on for is the order in which to put your veges in the pan, and also how well you like certain vegetables done. This is why frozen vegetable mixes are not Zo’s friends (among other reasons). Individually, frozen veges are fine. They will need a little adjusting in terms of cooking time though. Below is a rough guide on the order of things, vegetably speaking:

Put in first:
anything cut larger than a walnut, especially things like broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes (which I generally avoid in stir fries, but if using, I wouldn’t cut them any bigger than small, 2cm cubes) etc. Also, onions. Unless you like your onions “just cooked,” in which case you can put them in last or second. Generally these ingredients want about a minute or two in the pan (maybe partially covered) before moving on to second base.

Put in second:
Anything thicker than 1cm, but less than walnut sized. So if you cut carrots into cubes, for example, you put these in earlier than if you cut them into thin matchsticks. If you like your cabbage softened, throw them in here rather than at the end. If you like them really soft, throw them in at the beginning. Generally these ingredients want about a minute or two in the pan (maybe partially covered) before moving on to second base.

Put in last:
Anything less than 5mm thick, or anything you can pretty much eat raw. So, even if you cut spinach into huge leaves, you’d put these in last, because you can eat spinach raw. Most leaves follow this rule, except for cabbage (although raw cabbage doesn’t exactly taste bad, y’know?). You want them JUST wilted, and then everything should come out of the pan, pronto. The heat retained in the vegs will mean they keep cooking even after out of the pan, so that’s why you should be taking them out even if they’re not totally wilted. Capsicum/bell peppers always go in last. Mushrooms can also go in last, if you don’t want them thoroughly cooked. Peas also go in last, although maybe half a minute before leaves. Generally these ingredients want about thirty seconds in the pan (NOT covered) before serving.

Now, there is a reason Chinese take outs can do fresh vegetable stir fries to order in the amount of time it takes McDonalds to serve up a hamburger. This is because it’s meant to be a fast cooking process, because most of the time is spent on prepping the ingredients. However, to cut time here, you can prep ingredients that go in later while the “big” veges are cooking. So for example, you can start with just chopping your onion, throwing it in the pan with some oil, and while it’s cooking, chop the next ingredients to go in, and so on.

If you like bits of your veges a little “seared” or “charred,” all you need to do is put the pan on a medium high – high heat and leave your veges alone for about 30 seconds so the bottom gets a little brown touch. Don’t do this for every side, or your veges will be overdone. However, if you can get only one side browned, they will taste AWESOME. Think seared meats. Yeah.

The process as a whole requires a little common sense on your part. If stuff looks a little too wet (there’s water surrounding the veges where they touch the pan), leave the pan uncovered. If things keep going brown faster than you’d like, turn the heat down and add a little splash of water.

Meat, eggs, tofu, nuts or other nice things

Before I begin, just a note about seafood: it generally does not like being in a stir fry. Squid is okay, but considering the amount of effort required, generally I don’t add seafood to my stir fries. Nothin wrong with a fillet of fish on the side (if you’ve overcome the overfishing argument), but avoid it in stir fries.

Par-cook your meat (preferably marinated beforehand in some sort of sauce) before even starting the veges, and set aside. Same with eggs and tofu. Eggs should not be wet but should have lmost no golden brown spots. Tofu should be stir fried in some sauce.

With nuts or seeds, roast at 180C for about 3-7 minutes until the nuts are golden or seeds are slightly puffed up and darkened a touch. Remove, cool on a cold plate, and mix in just before serving veges, after you’ve removed the veges from the heat.


I generally use light, liquidy sauces that stick to the veges but don’t coat them in a slimy layer of excessive sauce-ness. To each his/her own, but I promise you, less is more. Add sauces near the end of cooking, because otherwise most will burn. You can add half at the middle of the process, but generally, don’t add it at the very beginning. If you want to use store bought sauces, try using half the reccommended amount and you may be pleasantly surprised (assuming you use fresh, not frozen, veges).

Add a pinch of salt with the onions, but otherwise, add salt and pepper at the end.

Here are my top five favourite sauces/additions:

1. Light soy sauce (get an Asian brand, at an Asian supermarket) – about 1 tsp per cup of veges
2. Oyster sauce (ditto above) – about 1/4tsp per cup of veges
3. Sesame oil – drizzle a little over your veges after you’ve plated them. Sesame oil brings out the flavours of most veges, and tastes delicious on its own. Use sparingly.
4.  White vinegar – for cabbage, about 1/2 tsp per cup of veges
5.  Butter – a few tiny cubes of butter are amazing to top your hot veges with if you’ve used oil sparingly. Or cook your onions in butter. Works great with cabbage.

I have yet to try teriyaki sauce, but have heard it is great for marinating meats.

Happy vegetable-ising!


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