Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Joy of Stir Fried Vegetables – Recipes and Spices



 
While just plain steamed vegetables are nice in a traditional western dinner of roast, sausages or grill, these must remain side dishes on the dinner plate. However, increasingly based on new health studies or for spiritual reasons many are shunning or reducing meat in their diets. In this latter case it is possible to make a main dish out of vegetables provided one uses the right recipes for stir fried vegetables; these can make a delicious and wholesome main dish on a dinner plate. In this latter case just one or two hard boiled eggs, a salad and buttered bread on the side makes a complete and nourishing dinner that delights mind, body and soul. The following tips and spices will be helpful for any interested reader

The Simple Stir fry

Stir fried vegetables are prepared by heating a little butter, clarified butter or cooking oil in a pan or pot and then adding chosen seasoning and vegetables to it, followed by a little stirring and cooking with a cover in the pan on low or medium heat.

A single vegetable or a mix of vegetables can be used in a stir fried dishes. When preparing a mix, it is best to add vegetables in the order in which they cook. Potatoes require the most time. They are therefore added first if part of the mix. Vegetables like peas and cauliflower require lesser time and can be added a bit later while some like cabbage and button mushrooms (fungi) needs very little cooking time and should be added last for best results.

To soften hard vegetables like potatoes, a little water can be sprinkled on them and cooked covered for a few minutes on low heat to ensure the water does not dry out and the vegetable gets much too brown or burnt. A little experience in the kitchen would make any person a perfect judge of the best timings and heat required for different vegetables.

Adding Spices

While some vegetables like button mushrooms (called a vegetable here for convenience) are delicious if stir fried in butter with just a bit of salt and black pepper others require more additions if they are to be a main dish for a lunch or dinner.

One of the best spices to add to stir fried vegetables aside from black pepper is cumin. The seeds can be used whole or ground in a blender for the dish. The flavor of cumin seeds develop when they are roasted or fried a bit otherwise they have a bitter flavor that is not very nice. The seeds can be pre-roasted in an oven or hot plate and then ground and stored in a glass jar for use later. Otherwise, after heating cooking oil in the pan, add the ground cumin powder first and let it fry for a minute before adding vegetables. Just half a tea spoon is sufficient for a couple of cups of diced vegetables. Salt to taste and some black pepper may be added while the cooking proceeds.

Curried Stir Fry Vegetables

In South Asia curried stir fried vegetables is a common daily preparation. However, do note that curried vegetables or any other dish is never prepared with curry powder. That is a western innovation never used in South Asia. Not only does it not taste nice it also smells bad at least to this author. The way vegetable preparations are curried in much of South Asia is by adding ground cumin powder or whole cumin seeds, coriander seed powder, turmeric and chili powder according to taste. If you wish to make a curried stir fried vegetable dish use these spices in about the same quantity as the cumin. While the cumin must be added to very hot oil before the vegetables, the other spices are mixed in later after the vegetables are added to the pot and stirred in.

Garam Masala

In prosperous South Asian homes, another spice mix called Garam Masala is a must add to stir fried and other meat or vegetable preparations. It is primarily a mix of spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and black pepper. There is a full blog post on how to make your own Garam Masala in this blog. In my kitchen we ran out of our Garam Masala today and I have left a new batch of spices to sun before grinding them in a blender in the evening as shown in the photo. Once ground it shall be enough for a couple of months of cooking. We vary the mix a bit every time the spice mix is prepared depending on the spices that are available at hand but the interested reader can begin with a standard mix at first and then try variations as they become more comfortable with it. Two cups of diced vegetables require about a level tea spoon for a dish and it has to be pre-fried just like was indicated for cumin in the previous paragraph. Use the search tool in the left bar to reach a blog post on Garam Masala and more spices.

Adding Herbal Flavors

Garlic, Ginger, tomatoes, Green Chilies and Green Coriander Leaves (Cilantro) are great additions to a stir fried vegetable preparation. Peal and chop a few cloves of garlic and let them brown in the cooking oil before adding vegetables. Ginger cut in strings can be added at any stage while green chilies and chopped tomatoes come out best if added when the dish is nearly ready. Cilantro leaves may be added as a garnish after the heat has been turned off.

Exotic Stir Fries

Adding nuts like almonds, cashew nuts and paneer pieces adds an exotic touch to a stir fried dish and makes it fit for a King’s table. To use cashew nuts or almonds soak them in water for a few hours. Peel off the skins of almonds and then add to the stir fried vegetable dish along with the chopped vegetables. Paneer is an unprocessed non-melting cheese. Information about it can be found in this blog or on google. It may be procured from a store or made at home by coagulating fresh milk with a bit of vinegar. Because paneer does not melt, it can be added to stir fries to make them more delicious and full of rich proteins. Nuts serve the same purpose.  If you have edible flowers growing in your garden, the flower petals can be used to garnish and decorate the dish on special occasions. Use the search tool in side bar to reach a list of edible flowers in this blog.

In a Pie or Samosa

Stir fried vegetables prepared as just described make an excellent pie filling. My favorite is a stir fry of peas and button mushrooms for a pie. This pie, because it is stir fried with herbs and spices does not need gravy as many meat pies do.

Samosa is an Arab and South Asian variation of a pie. In this case the stir fried mix is wrapped in kneaded and rolled out flour and deep fried in a triangular sort of shape. It requires much practice to make at home and is therefore mostly purchased from a Samosa shop. It is delicious but not very healthy to have in a regular meal, only as an occasional snack

The Dinner

A western dinner that has a stir fried vegetable preparation as explained can be the main dish on a dinner plate. The side dishes can be couple of hard boiled eggs (just one if you already had one at breakfast), a small serving of salad and bread. The bread can be any western or Asian but all are wonderful hot and with some butter on it.

A few persons are allergic to gluten in wheat and they may then use steamed rice as replacement. Just add a little water to the stir fried dish when it is nearly done so that it develops a little gravy needed for steamed rice to soak up.

For special occasions one can make a five course dinner out of a main preparation of stir fried vegetables. Begin with a small appetizer, followed by soup, the dinner as described, a course of salad dressed in a mayonnaise, hung yoghurt or sour cream followed last by a desert and black tea especially on cold winter evenings.

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