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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Time for Vegetables



After all the rich foods of the past few weeks--cookie exchanges, three or four course meals, chips and dips, cheese and crackers at all those holiday parties--it's no wonder so many New Year's resolutions involve better eating habits.

To be able to keep those resolutions, it's a good idea to have healthy ingredients around to make some menu changes. However, how often have you come home from the store with bags of all those bright vegetables and fruits and whole grain goodies and then had them go to waste because you didn't really have a good plan for doing something with them?

Although you may think of stir frys as more summer than winter food, they are great choices to consider in January. The cost can be quite low--just what we need right now--and the healthy things you will put into them can build right into that resolution to lose weight and/or eat more healthily.

Winter stir fries will have a very different mix of vegetables than many of the ones you may have made in the summer, but they can still be a great meal with just rice (or a baked potato) and perhaps a dollop of yoghurt or some grated cheese over the top.

First, the method:
Put a tablespoon or so of canola or other oil in a nonstick or cast iron skillet and heat. Stir in onions and firmer vegetables like carrots and celery. Cook on medium high heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add seasoning and then begin adding other vegetables, starting with those that need the most cooking and finishing with those needing the least amount of time, like leafy greens or frozen vegetables. Garlic is best added sometime in the middle rather than at the beginning, to avoid burning or overcooking it. I usually cover--and often add a little bit of water as well--for the last few minutes for even cooking. Yes, I know that is not "official" stir frying, but I never have any complaints with this approach and almost always have lots of requests for seconds.

Here are a couple of more detailed "recipes"--really just templates--for winter stir fries. Amounts are always very general; don't worry about exact measures. Start out with half an onion for one or two people, a whole onion for three or four, and then use the amount of vegetables that you have so that you will end up with a couple of cups total for each main dish portion. If using as a side dish, one cup per person will be enough. And though they may not be as crisp or bright the next day, all of these mixtures will taste wonderful if refrigerated and reheated in the microwave for tomorrow's lunch, so don't be afraid to make lots at a time.

NOTE: None of the recipes below include salt. If you are going to add soy sauce or cheese or use the pepperoncini or bottled red peppers, there will be plenty of salt but, even without these garnishes, the flavors are so good that you may find yourself being able to kick some of the salt habit we all seem to have become accustomed to. If you decide to add salt at the table, that's fine too--just give these a try without the salt first!


Green and White Stir Fry

peanut oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 large stalk celery, sliced
1/2 to 1 bell pepper, chopped or cut in long strips
1 1/2 t bottled, chopped garlic
1 to 2 c broccoli stems, cut in thin slices
1 to 2 c cauliflower, stems and flowerets, coarsely chopped
1 pepperoncini, finely chopped (optional but nice for just a little more zip in the overall mix)
1 to 1 1/2 t mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme, basil, and marjoram)
1 T soy sauce




Saute onions, celery and pepper in oil at medium high heat until onion is translucent and all are tender. Add all remaining ingredients except soy sauce, along with a tablespoon or so of water. Stir often, keeping heat quite high. Cover for a few minutes if desired to speed up cooking. When just crisp tender, add soy sauce, stir, and serve. (As an alternative, the soy sauce may be served at the table for each person to add to taste.)

The pepperoncini is a very economical way to add heat to these mixtures in the winter. They are sold in the pickle section and cost less than half of canned jalapenos or green chilis while adding similar heat and pepper flavor.



Orange and White Stir Fry

canola oil
1 medium onion, cut in julienne slices
2 or 3 large carrots, coarsely grated
1 small celery rib, finely diced
1/4 medium head cabbage, shredded
1/2 red bell pepper, diced--OR 1 pickled red pepper (NOT sweetened)
1 c frozen kernel corn--no need to thaw
1 T or so of water
oregano, cumin, basil to taste
freshly grated pepper

Saute onions, celery, and carrots in oil until onions are translucent, stirring often. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and cover for a few minutes, cooking until the cabbage is just barely tender. Taste and adjust for seasonings. With grated cheese over the top and a baked potato or fresh bread, it makes a great vegetarian meal. It is also an excellent side dish for all kinds of meat.





Summer in Winter Stir Fry

canola or peanut oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 c bell pepper, chopped--use frozen peppers, fresh, or canned peppers from the pickle aisle
2 to 3 c shredded cabbage OR grated cauliflower OR sliced zucchini if available fresh
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced--or use bottled chopped garlic
10 oz package chopped spinach, only slightly thawed
1 can diced tomatoes, drained--save the liquid
1 c frozen corn
dried basil, thyme, cumin
grated parmesan or romano cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in cast iron or other heavy pan over medium high heat. Saute onion until barely translucent and stir in bell pepper and cabbage or cauliflower. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are just limp. Stir in garlic, spinach, drained tomatoes, and corn. Add seasonings to taste. Stir, cover, and simmer until all ingredients are piping hot. If necessary, add a little of the reserved tomato juice. Serve with grated cheese and black pepper. This is good with brown rice and a tossed salad of romaine, sliced apples, and walnuts with your favorite dressing.

Save the reserved tomato juice for other recipes; if you are not sure how you will use it right away, just label and freeze in a small container for adding later to chili, spaghetti sauce, or anything with a tomato base.


Remember: a really frugal cook NEVER throws away perfectly edible, tasty "byproducts" like drained fruit and vegetable juices, meat broths, etc.

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