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.
I talk about ground beef, but feel free to substitute other ground meats instead; cooked pork will be of a white colour (I usually cook it until there is a bit of brown as well, just to be safe), and ground chicken/turkey will also be of a white colour when it is cooked.
While steak can be eaten rare, I will emphasize that ground beef needs to be thoroughly cooked to be safe to eat; you will know it is properly cooked when you do not see any pink.
Start by heating up your pan or wok (I personally am a big fan of flat-bottomed woks, as they are very versatile pieces of equipment) to medium heat. Not sure what medium heat is? For most ovens, I would say it’s turning the knob on the stove-top so that’s it’s pointing directly downwards; if there are numbers that go from 1 to 9 around the dial, turning it to 5 is probably medium. I say probably because no two ovens are equal, and you may discover that the dial needs to be turned a bit higher or lower.
If you’re only cooking ground beef, feel free to just add it all in. “Wait”, you might say, “shouldn’t I add oil?” You can, but I generally find that there is enough fat in the ground beef that you don’t really need to add any extra at the beginning. Feel free to do so, however, if you want.
Now stir the ground beef semi-constantly. For those who want a time, maybe every 5 seconds? The goal is to prevent the ground beef at the bottom from burning, and to make sure all of the ground beef is being cooked at about the same pace. When stirring, make sure that the beef from the bottom and the top is being mixed together constantly, across the entire pan.
Keep cooking and stirring the ground beef. You will notice the pink of the raw beef turning a brownish-colour when being cooked; this is what you want. The ground beef will be cooked when you cannot see any pink anymore. Because the pieces of ground beef are so small, a cooked outside pretty much equates a cooked inside.
Next is to get the ground beef out of the pan; one simple option is just tilting the pan over the bowl you are placing the beef into, and then pushing the beef out using a spatula or spoon (or whatever else you want to use). An option here is to try and leave behind as much of the fat in the bottom of the pan as you can; the fat can then be poured into an empty food container (glass jar, aluminum can, pretty much anything) and once it has solidified can be thrown out.
And voila! You now know the basics to cooking ground beef! A very simple use of this is to mix the ground beef with some rice, add a little bit of ketchup, and voila! (this is one of my favourite lazy meals that my mother would make when we were kids, and she just didn’t have time to make anything more complex). Tacos, either hard or soft shelled, are another good use; just grate some cheese, thinly slice some lettuce, and open a jar of salsa, and you have the makings of tacos!
Where can you go from here?
Well, first of all you can add seasoning. When the beef looks to be about 50% cooked, try adding some salt, pepper, or any of various herbs and spices. I won’t go into depth about various herbs here, but feel free to experiment! If you’re cooking the ground beef for tacos, maybe add some cumin or chilli powder. Thyme and oregano are good spices if you want more of an Italian flavour, maybe to go with some pasta and tomato sauce. Feel free to experiment with the amount, and the variety; that is how you will learn!
Maybe you find it a bit too dry? Try adding a bit of soy sauce, a bit of ketchup, or a bit of whatever sauce you have on hand to the ground beef as you are cooking it, when the beef is around 75% cooked (I’ll talk more about sauces you can easily make at home later). If you want the sauce and juices thicker, sprinkle the ground beef with a bit of flour and then mix it all together; the flour will thicken the juices around the beef, therefore helping coat the beef with more of it.