Pineapple Cashew Stir Fry

When I switched to a vegan-ist diet about seven weeks ago, I did so because of the purported health benefits.

Easy Pineapple Cashew Stir FryAs many recent books, documentaries and other bloggers have claimed, eliminating meat, dairy and processed food from your diet can reduce your chances of contracting chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It can improve your overall daily health. And it has even been known to reverse certain medical conditions, including arthritis, high blood pressure and anemia.

I can personally attest that I have had more energy since going vegan-ist. I feel stronger, have suffered fewer minor injuries while running, and generally have a more optimistic outlook and less anxiety and stress. Given what I had read and seen prior to making the switch, I sort of expected — or at least hoped — that these things would happen.

What I didn’t expect, however, was for my sense of taste and smell to improve so much. Even with my usual summer allergies, I can smell things better than ever before, such as subtle aromas around our home or the different types of cooking smells I encounter while running through my neighborhood.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that food tastes better when you start eating clean, and it’s true! For one, you have to pay more attention to the selection and preparation of your food, so I think you naturally focus more on tasting it when you eat. And because you eat mostly fresh produce, grains, nuts and so on, the flavors aren’t buried under mounds of preservatives, pesticides, steroids, genetic modification, growth hormones and other fallout from modern processed food.

But because my sense of smell is more enhanced, the flavors of food are more dynamic.

Now, I know this all may be wishful thinking on my part. In fact, my mom and Sandi were joking the other day that I would be off vegan and on to some other obsession in a couple of months, like I always do.

Maybe so. But for the time being, I’m going to enjoy the explosive flavors of these amazing foods. If only for a little while.

Here’s a quick and easy Pineapple Cashew Stir Fry I have been making lately. As I’ve noted in an earlier blog, stir fry can be just about anything. But the sweet tartness of the fresh pineapple (perfectly in season right now) combined with the crunchiness of the cashews really made this one taste exceptionally delicious.

Pineapple Cashew Stir Fry

1 to 2 TBS Coconut Oil

2-1/5 cups White Rice, cooked

1/2 Red Onion, slivered

1/2 Red Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

2 White Mushrooms, sliced thin

1/2 Zucchini, cut into medallions

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

3/4 cup Fresh Pineapple, large dice

1/2 cup Baked Tofu (recipe below)

1/2 cup Cashews, roughly chopped

1/4 cup Soy Aminos (or Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce)

3/4 cup Water

1 TBS Corn Starch

Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

1. Place a large non-stick sauté pan or wok over a high flame. Leave it there for about a minute or two so it gets very hot. Add coconut oil. It will start to smoke in about 10 to 15 seconds. Add the onions and peppers and toss. Cook until slightly wilted, about 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Then add tofu, zucchini and pineapple. Toss/cook for about a minute.

2. Meanwhile, in a glass measuring cup, combine the soy aminos, water and corn starch and stir together. Set aside. Add garlic to the pan. When it becomes aromatic, about 10-20 seconds, add the liquid to the pan and stir. Within about a minute, it will turn into a glaze. At the last second, add the cashews and season with the freshly ground pepper. Given the sodium in the soy aminos or soy sauce, you won’t need to add any additional salt. Toss everything together, remove from heat and cover until ready to serve.

3. To plate, spoon about 3/4 cup of white rice onto on side of a pasta bowl, then spoon the stir fry onto the other side of the bowl. If you want to be really fancy, make it into a yin-yang pattern. Or press the rice into a small bowl and invert it into the top-center of the plate and arrange the stir fry around it. Garnish with additional cashews, sliced scallions, toasted sesame seeds or whatever you like.

Tofu is made from soybeans and is a handy ingredient to have lying around. It comes in a variety of forms, including silken, firm and extra firm. Silken is quite soft, doesn’t have to be refrigerated, and will fall apart when handled.

Firm tofu has a slightly tougher texture, but will still crumble quite easily. I like to use it in place of scrambled eggs sometimes.

Extra firm tofu will hold its structure, so it can be sliced and diced into any size you want.

Both firm and extra firm tofu come packed in water. You will want to gently squeeze some of the water out before you use it.

This recipe is very versatile. It can be kept in the refrigerator and used to add texture and additional protein to salads, stir fry, casseroles, chili, stews or practically any dish. I seasoned this one with Garam Masala, a mixture of Indian spices, but you could just as easily use chili powder and cumin, Italian seasoning and granulated garlic, simple salt and pepper, or nothing at all.

Baked Tofu

2 tsp Garam Masala (or whatever spices you want)

14 oz package Extra Firm Tofu

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a baking sheet with pan spray.

2. Remove tofu from package and gently squeeze out excess water. Cut into 1/2 inch slices and place on baking sheet. Spray tofu with pan spray then sprinkle with half the spice mixture. Bake for 15 minutes.

3. Remove from oven. Use a spatula to gently turn each tofu slice, sprinkle with remaining spice mixture and return to oven for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

4. When cool, cut tofu slices into cubes. These will keep in your refrigerator up to a wek. You can also freeze them for up to two months.

Beef and Broccoli

I’ve always enjoyed beef and broccoli from the Chinese take-out restaurant, but surprisingly I’ve never tried it at home.

One of the most enjoyable things about writing a blog is encountering other people from around the world who have shared interests. Before I started blogging a little more than a year ago, I was only vaguely aware of the concept of bloggers and the blogosphere.

Beef and Broccoli

Today, I’m an enthusiastic participant in a rich community of people whose writing I admire, whose online friendship I cherish, and whose willingness to open up their lives to strangers never fails to astound me.

I found this beef and broccoli recipe on one of the most interesting and entertaining blogs that I follow. It’s called Sybaritica, and it’s written by C. John Thompson, a Canadian public defender/food writer whose territory is literally the top of the world, composing of tiny villages above the Arctic Circle.

Although I subscribe to dozens of blogs, John’s is one that I will always drop everything and read whenever a new entry arrives in my inbox. He has a keen, curious mind and his subject matter is always interesting — whether he is writing about the challenges of representing defendants in remote Acrtic villages or reviewing exotic Asian cooking products.

I have frequently commented on John’s blog that he should consider writing a book or even a movie. His life is truly fascinating — sort  of like “Northern Exposure” meets “Law and Order”.

This Beef and Broccoli recipe looked especially delicious, as it is one of my favorite carry-out dishes. It was actually quite simple to make and extraordinarily flavorful. Both Sandi and I enjoyed it very much, leaving me to wonder why I haven’t made this before.

Probably because we don’t usually cook with beef, preferring instead lower-fat alterntives such as chicken or ground turkey breast. This recipe may change that.

Beef and Broccoli

3/4 lb Beef Steak (I used flank steak, tenderized with a mallet)

2 cups Fresh Broccoli Florets

1/2 Medium White Onion, cut into wedges then separated

2 TBS plus 1 tsp Cornstrach

1 TBS plus 1/2 tsp Baking Soda

1/2  cup Chicken Stock

1/4 cup White Wine

3 TBS Oyster Sauce

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

2 TBS Grated Ginger

2 Garlic Cloves, minced

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1 cup White Rice

Handful of Frozen Peas

1. Blanch the broccoli by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Drop florets into boiling water, cooking about one minute, then strain into colander, return to pot and cover with cold water to stop the cooking process. This can be done earlier and stored in the refrigerator.

2. Pound beef flat with a meat mallet or the bottom of a cast iron pan to tenderize it,  then cut it into 1″ to 2″ pieces. Place in a bowl and toss with 2 TBS cornstarch, 1 TBS baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Let sit for about 20 minutes so the baking soda can further tenderize the meat.

3. Make a sauce by combining the stock, wine, oyster sauce, sugar and 1 tsp cornstarch in a bowl. Whisk it so that the cornstarch doesn’t clump.

4. Cook the rice. I used my rice cooker, adding the rest of the can of chicken stock, a handful of frozen peas for color/texture, and a little S&P.

5. Heat a cast iron pan over a high heat (or a wok if you have one). When very hot, add 1 TBS of the EVOO. When smoking, add the meat and stir-fry until brown and crispy, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

6. Remove meat to a bowl and let the pan get hot again. Then add remaining TBS of EVOO, get it smoking hot, and add garlic and ginger. When the ginger becomes fragrant (less than a minute) add the broccoli florets and toss together. Let broccoli heat through for a moment or two, then return meat to the pan, along with the sauce. Cook until the sauce reduces and becomes thick, about two minutes. Serve immediately over rice.

This is a wonderful dish to warm up a cook Autumn evening. If you like it spicy, add a 1/2 tsp of dried red pepper flake during the final two minutes of cooking.

I’m grateful for having met so many interesting and giving people like John who are willing to share their knowledge and even their lives with the rest of us. And I’m looking forward to watching that movie!

 

 

Stir Fry Secrets

You’ve probably been in Asian restaurants where the menu is 30 pages long and there are literally hundreds of items listed. When I was a culinary student I used to wonder, “Isn’t it
expensive to prep for so many different dishes every day?”

Here’s the secret they don’t want you to know: Although there may be hundreds of dishes, they are all combinations of only a handful of basic ingredients. Each dish is a pairing of couple different vegetables (such as onions, peppers, pea pods, etc.), combined with a few kinds of proteins (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, etc), then served with your choice of starch (white rice, soft noodles, fried noodles).

All are quick cooked in very hot oil, usually in the same wok.

Obviously, there are variations. Sweet and sour chicken is breaded in a tempura batter, deep fried and served with a sweetened vinegar sauce. In egg foo young , vegetables are fried with an egg and flour mixture and served with a brown sauce. Moo shu sauce is made with sweetened plum puree.

But you get the idea.

Which brings us to why stir fry is the ultimate in budget cooking. Open your refrigerator and look around. Maybe you’ve got some leftover chicken, a half an onion and some garden fresh jalapenos. Guess what? You are now in the stir fry business!

Stir fry is one of the best ways to use up whatever leftovers you have laying around. Or you can buy a couple simple items and create an all-new quick and easy meal for your family.

Since I’m already spilling the beans, here are a couple of other stir fry secrets:

  • A little goes a long way: If you only have a small amount of leftover protein, you can stretch it out by mixing it with lots of inexpensive vegetables and rice or noodles. Kind of like ancient Chinese hamburger helper.
  • Rice and noodles don’t cost anything:  Okay, maybe they cost something, but it’s pennies per plate compared to other starches like potatoes or pasta. Filling up a plate with lots of white rice is a tasty and nutritious way to improve your family’s grocery budget.
  • Use the same basic marinade: Marinade chicken, pork, beef or shrimp in a little freshly crushed garlic, minced ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil and you will get an Asian influenced meal that won’t bust your wallet. Always keep these items on hand (ginger freezes excellently), and you will always have a quick and easy go-to meal guaranteed to please your family.
  • It’s thickened with the cheapest things on earth: Mix 1 TBS corn starch to 1 cup of water (this is called a “slurry”) and add it to your stir fry. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for five minutes and you’ll get a thick, flavorful
    stir fry that rivals anything from your local chop suey palace. In fact, that’s
    exactly same thing they do!

Want to make your stir fry more exotic? Spend a little more for baby corn cobs, water chestnuts or bamboo shoots. Or stop by the produce section to pick up some enoki mushrooms or bean sprouts. Easier still, during the last minute of cooking, throw in any leftover nuts you have lying around, such as cashews, peanuts or pecans.

Here’s a simple recipe I recently made that incorporates all of these ancient Chinese secrets.

Stir Fry Beef and Broccoli

Stir Fry Beef and Broccoli

Stir Fry Beef and Broccoli

For the rice:

1 cup dry white rice

2-3/4 cup chicken stock

1 TBS butter or EVOO

Salt and pepper to taste

For the protein:

6 oz leftover cooked flank steak (you can use any beef, chicken or pork you have)

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 TBS minced ginger

1 TBS sesame oil

3 TBS low-sodium soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

½ tsp red pepper flake

For the stir fry:

½ red (or white or yellow) onion, sliced

½ yellow, red or green pepper, julienned

1 garden fresh jalapeno, sliced (seeds and ribs included)

½ cup sliced mushrooms (totally optional)

1 small to medium head of broccoli crown, separated

A couple of green onions, sliced at an angle

1 TBS chopped parsley (only because I already had it)

For the thickening agent:

1 cup water or chicken stock

1 TBS corn starch

1. Marinade the beef in the other ingredients between 10 minutes and 24 hours, depending on how much time you have. The longer you marinade, the more flavor will be aborbed by the beef. But don’t worry: all the flavor is going in the pan anyway.

2. Make rice however you prefer. I have a rice steamer, which is SO easy: Just dump in all ingredients, turn it on and forget about it. Perfect every time. Here’s a link to another easy way to cook rice.

3. Heat a large pan over a high flame. When hot, add oil and allow to get smoking hot. Add all the vegetables except the broccoli, scallions and parsley and cook until onions transluscent, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the beef and all the marinade and toss around. Cook until heated through, about a minute. Stir in the broccoli and thickening agent (liquid and corn starch), stir, reduce to low heat and cover. Cook about five minutes, stirring once or twice.

5. For plating, pile white rice in center of pasta bowl. Use a slotted spoon to arrange stir fry beef and broccoli. Garnish with green onions, chopped parsley and maybe a few more red pepper flakes.

Now you know the secret.