Making Asian cuisine is a true art form, and my son Stephen has mastered it way better than I have. In fact, his dishes rival any I’ve eaten at P.F. Chang’s or anywhere else. Much of the secret is in the sauce (which Stephen always makes from scratch), but if you don’t have several hours to prep, there are some excellent commercial sauces, and never underestimate the value of sesame oil and soy sauce in a pinch.
I’ve learned a lot from watching Stephen, and I notice that he: #1. Makes the sauce first (often marinating the meat in part of it for a few hours), #2 Chops all the veggies, #3. Starts the stir fry in a hot wok with sesame oil by cooking the meat until done. He totally removes the meat at that point and then #4. Begins stir-frying all the vegetables, starting with the most dense and gradually adding those that require less cooking to become tender, which is how his vegetables end up cooked to perfection and still colorful. Last of all, he #5. Adds the meat back in, just to reheat it, along with any seeds or nuts. This way everything is hot but has great texture.
You’ve probably been to Asian restaurants where you can pick your own meat, vegetables and nuts, and sauces. If you’ve not added any Asian dishes to your home cuisine yet, here are a few of the most commonly used options to get you started:
Meats: beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, tofu
Vegetables: pea pods, onions, garlic, carrots, green onions, mushrooms, peppers, bok choy, bean sprouts, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, string beans, asparagus, miniature corn on the cobs, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts (last three found canned in Asian section of stores)
Nuts: cashews, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds
Spices: ginger root (peeled and sliced very thin), basil, lemongrass, garlic, cloves, tumeric, cinnamon, cilantro, hot chilies, cumin, coriander, curry
Sauces: Hoisin, soy, plum, curry, peanut, brown, coconut, oyster, fish, etc. (I buy prepared sauces from the store, although I sometimes add a can of coconut milk or a few tablespoons of peanut butter because I love the peanut and coconut taste points.)
The real joy in making stir-fries for yourself is that you can develop recipes from scratch that will often mimic your favorite restaurant meals for a fraction of the cost. Also, if you’re trying to lose (or maintain) weight, you can skip the rice or other starches without depriving yourself of fantastic flavor. And, once you’ve experimented for a while, you might get to the point where you actually prefer your own cooking! I’m not that good yet when it comes to Asian cuisine, but I’d take Stephen’s “best effort” (so named from an old family joke) over P.F. Chang’s any day! (Ya, but what about the Great Wall of Chocolate??? Well…I’m on a diet!)
“All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith” Proverbs 15:15-16).