Few things get my head straight like doing detailed knife work. So when I'm having an off day, I will often turn to the vegetables in my fridge for clarity. Executing brunoise (dicing things really small), chiffonade (cutting leafy things into thin ribbons), or even a simple julienne (slicing into strips) can force me to get my head out of the clouds and focused on the task at hand. After all, if my mind is cloudy, my fingers will be in danger.
Stir fry makes you think beyond the avoidance of pain, though. More evident than in other forms of cooking (although every dish is truly reliant on this), in stir fry, timing is everything. And how you cut the vegetables affects when you will put them in the wok (or saute pan). This degree of mindfulness about something that many consider to be a chore can both help you center yourself mentally as well as find greater joy in the process of making a healthy meal.
Here are some tips for you to practice the zen of stir fry.
- Always keep a few veggies in your kitchen that have a great shelf life and can be added to a stir fry. I always have carrots, celery, and cabbage in my crisper, often alongside some ginger root, and onions and garlic are a constant presence in the pantry. Frozen ingredients (I'm looking at you, broccoli) are good to keep around for this purpose too. Other veggies with less of a shelf life but a high degree of kitchen versatility are peppers and mushrooms, which I also try to keep on hand.
- Consider carefully the sauces, oils, and seasoning you would use given the vegetables' flavors. I usually reach for peanut oil, toasted sesame oil, or good old neutral canola; to finish a stir fry, I grab low-sodium tamari (a wheat and gluten free soy sauce), Thai fish sauce, teriyaki, coconut milk, or just some citrus juice. It doesn't hurt to use Chinese 5 spice, dried or fresh basil, cilantro, parsley, cumin, curry, and/or cayenne, too.
- Consider carefully how thick or thin you are cutting produce. For example, I slice my carrots paper thin because I like when they are very cooked. But I leave broccoli in big chunks because I enjoy its crunchy texture when barely cooked.
- Cut everything on a bias (diagonally, like the carrots in the picture). This makes it look so much prettier (you do eat with your eyes first), but it also makes it seem like you are eating more food. (This is also why I cut the brownies we serve at Green Mountain into triangles instead of squares. It's a sneaky satisfaction trick that works.)
- As you prepare the veggies, consider the aromas, sounds, textures, flavors, and beauty of the ingredients you are using. Experiencing your ingredients on this level brings you into the moment and out of your head. It also can lead to a greater appreciation for those lovely veggies that serve your body so well.
Just a note: there are recipes for Sesame Soba Noodles, Stir-Fried Brown Rice, and Cantonese Lemon Chicken in our new e-cookbook, Recipes for Living 2011, available now through the Green Mountain at Fox Run website.
What are your favorite hints or ideas for a healthy stir fry?