Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cooking Is Easy - A Spring Dish

Whenever I post about a dinner that I've made, I get a few comments about how cooking from scratch is hard and that it isn't easy to come up with dinner ideas. I believe that cooking is easy, and that all you need to know is a few basics to have a lovely meal. Let me illustrate with the meal I made last night. (Sorry about the lack of photos. It was a pretty dish, but I forgot to take a picture. I'll try to remember the next time I make something like this.)

I made a Vietnamese inspired stir-fry last night. I've been making stir-fries since I was a young teen (my family ate a lot of Chinese and Japanese food growing up), and my mother-in-law is Vietnamese and taught me more last summer. (I will post about the teaching session at some point, but not today.)

So, last night I decided that we should have some springy vegetables. We buy chicken breasts in bulk, slice them for Asian dishes, and then freeze them. So all I had to do was let the chicken thaw, and then chop my vegetables. I scored locally grown asparagus and green onions at the market a mile from my house, and picked up a zucchini while I was at it. I already had some carrots and onions and a can of water chestnuts. I also decided to use some of the kale that we're growing on the front porch.

I started by putting about a tablespoon of oil (canola and olive, but use what you've got) into a pan and throwing in approximately 3 cloves of garlic. (We buy already minced garlic, but fresh is great. I think I used about half a Tablespoon here.) I let the garlic brown for a bit, and then I put in the chicken on medium-high heat. I added a 1/4 Tablepsoon of ginger juice, sprinkled over the chicken. (I prefer fresh ginger, but I had ginger juice on hand.)

This is the point where I realized that I had forgotten to make the rice. We currently have basmati rice, which is great for Indian food, but not our preference. We will be switching back to jasmine rice as soon as we're out of basmati. I followed the directions on the bag to make the rice, and then switched my attention back to the rest of the meal. (I highly suggest you start your rice before you get started with anything else though. Don't follow my example, even though my results were ok.)

I chopped my vegetables in the reverse order of how I wanted them cooked, and stacked them in a bowl. Zucchini is tender, and doesn't need to cook long, so it went in the bowl first. I cut it on a diagonal, and then chopped each slice in half. I snapped the asparagus tips off, and put them in the bowl next because they shouldn't cook long either. Next I snapped the asparagus stems. I felt they should cook a little longer than the stems. Next I chopped the carrots and onions. The onions were cut in half lengthwise, and then sliced (so I got half-moon slices of onions.)

Once the chicken was cooked through, I put it into a glass bowl and set it to the side. I put a little more oil in the pan, and added another tablespoon or so of garlic. I let it brown for a bit, and then I added in the onion slices. (If I were to do it again, I would probably cut the onions a little wider and cook them for less time, but the end result was fine.) Once the onions started to cook, I added the carrots. (Carrots add not only nutrition but color and sweetness to the dish.) Then the asparagus stalks (about 1 inch pieces) and water chestnuts. When I felt the asparagus getting less crisp, I added the asparagus tips and zucchini. (Saving the green onions and kale for the last few minutes of cooking. I didn't even chop them until ready to use.) I periodically added a little more garlic (probably used the equivalent of an entire bulb by the time I was finished) and another half tablespoon of ginger juice.

When the asparagus seemed to be almost done, I added the chicken back in and mixed it all up. I turned the heat down (from medium-high or medium) to medium-low or low, and then added the kale (kind of minced) and the green onions.

It could have been ready at this point, but my husband still had some things to do, so I think it simmered on low for about 10-15 more minutes (also, the rice wasn't ready yet). The dish was served over rice with soy sauce (and sriracha for hubby).

Perhaps this doesn't sound simple, but really it's all about stirring meat and then some vegetables around in a pan with aromatics until they're done. The flavors meld beautifully together - my husband even said that I had found a way to get him to eat asparagus. Not that I'm trying to get him to eat asparagus - more for me, if he doesn't! My daughter kept giving me her asparagus tips, but otherwise, she had two helpings. I find that water chestnuts encourage even the pickiest eaters to eat vegetables - they are so much fun to eat! Also, my daughter helped to grow the kale, and she is proud to eat it.

What are some of your favorite ways to get your family to eat vegetables?


Sian said...

You've certainly made it sound easy! I cook a lot of veg in my crockpot in the winter, so now I need to make the switch to stir frying for summer I guess.

Anonymous said...

Since I'm a vegetarian, our meals are pretty vegged up. Favorites include: pasta primavera, we like a good stir fry and current number one with a bullet is pad thai with tofu, green onions, carrots and bean sprouts. We do a lot of spreads for sandwiches too. Hummus in various forms or an artichoke/spinach blended with olive oil makes for some good lunches. J's an eater so he will go for most vegetables. But E is super picky. Mixing veggies in rice helps a ton.