You have mastered ground beef! And now you’re tired of it, always on its own. Or you’ve developed scurvy from the lack of vitamin C in your diet. Whatever the reason, it is time to add some colour to your stir fry!
Different colours in vegetables tend to correspond to different combinations of nutrients and other phytochemicals. As such, one easy way to try and have a more balanced diet is to include a large amount of them, of varying colours.
Pan frying vegetables is easy enough to do; the key idea is to neither overcook them nor undercook them.
Whatever vegetables you want to add, here are the things to keep in mind:
Slicing and Dicing
You want to cut the vegetables into fairly even pieces, so that they will all cook at about the same rate. Smaller and thinner pieces cook faster, while with larger pieces you sometimes have to be careful to make sure the pieces are cooked through.
Take a look at your vegetables.
Is it onion, ginger, or garlic? These three fall into the category of fried seasoning. Most of the time, you will be adding these to the pan first, frying them up in some oil. For onions, you want to cook them until they are somewhat translucent; I personally like browning them slightly, as I find it makes them more flavourful.
Is it hard and crunchy, like carrots, celery, and cauliflower? If so, you will want to add the vegetables to your pan earlier during the cooking process, so that they have time to soften up.
Is it somewhat crunchy, like red peppers, or broccoli? If so, you will want to add it later in the process, closer to the end, but with still enough time to soften them up a bit.
Is it delicate/have a high water content, such as spinach or chives? These you will usually want to add near the end, as they soften quite quickly.
Is it a high starch item, such as potatoes, yams, and squash? These take considerable time to cook if frying in the pan. I will often soften them up by steaming them first. Boiling or baking will also work.
So there you go!
Next time you fry up some ground beef for tacos, or some such, try frying up some onions and garlic first, and then adding the meat.
If you want an actual stir-fry, cook up some onions, garlic, ginger, ground beef, celery, red peppers, and chives, with a bit of soy sauce for flavouring, and have it with a side of white rice! The more practice you get frying up a variety of vegetables, the better you will become at understanding how long each type of vegetable needs to cook in order to be the perfect medium between crunchy and soft.
Learning how to pan-fry food is one of the skills I consider most important in cooking. It’s not just a matter of throwing everything into a pan, swishing it around for several minutes, and then taking it out; instead, it’s a strategic game plan of heating the pan, and then adding the ingredients into the pan in the right order so that everything is properly cooked without being overcooked. Maybe it’s just me, but I like the vegetables in my stir-fries to still have a little bit of crunch to them!
Heating the Pan:
I’m still learning the proper way to heat pans, it seems. Watching this video on heating a stainless steel pan seems like a good piece of advice, if you have a stainless steel pan. Tefflon non-stick pans should not be overheated, and only used on low to medium heat. Cast iron pans can also be a lot of fun to use, and are slower to heat up and cool down, helping to prevent temperature spikes – BUT make sure to take the time to properly season your cast iron pan!
This is actually important to mention: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU USE WHEN STIRRING THE CONTENTS OF A PAN! Metal tools can be good, but you have to be careful not to scratch the pan: never use metal tools with a non-stick pan, as you do not want to scratch the non-stick coating! In general, I see no problems with just using plastic or silicone tools, especially for your average cook.
One of the topics I wish to discuss is the difference I perceive between following recipes and cooking. Do not misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with using recipes; they are quite useful, and allow someone to attempt dishes they may never have been exposed to before. However, learning how to cook is about a lot more than simply following recipes.
Learning how to cook involves learning why you do certain steps in a recipe. Being told to fry the chopped onion for 3 to 4 minutes on medium heat is only really useful if you know what the end result is supposed to look like, and not all stovetop burners heat to the same temperature when set to medium.
My other major complaint with a recipe approach to cooking is the waste of ingredients that tends to occur. You’ll buy what you need, use part of it for the recipe, and suddenly you’re left with all these ingredients you don’t know what to do with. This is a cycle we want to avoid!
In my blog, I don’t just want to share recipes; I want to help people learn how to cook. Cooking can be a lot of fun, and a very satisfying experience.
And hey, as my dad put it to me back in high school, knowing how to whip up a tasty meal is never a bad thing when there’s a girl you’re trying to impress. And the opposite holds true too (and half opposite – girl impressing girl, or guy impressing guy).