One of the absolute staples on the menu of anyone that has little in the way of time, and yet wants a nutritious and delicious evening meal, is the versatile stir-fry. Originating in China, this cooking technique usually involves tossing ingredients into a large wok with a drizzle of very hot oil and cooking on a high heat for a short amount of time.
One of the benefits of cooking stir-fries at home is that they can incorporate a good balance of protein and fresh vegetables. Chicken and beef work well in a stir-fry dish whereas marinated tofu can be an excellent choice for vegetarians. The bright colours you’ll find in a stir fry recipe indicate an abundance of nutritious vitamins and minerals – it is always a good bet to fill your plates with colourful, fresh produce.
The Indian Stir-fry
In comparison, this flash-frying style is not typically found in traditional Indian cooking culture. Yet a form of stir-fry is utilised to prepare all manner of vegetable sides in the country, or sabzis as they are typically called. Sabzis are an essential element to any traditional Indian spread, cooked in such a way that they are loaded with flavour – you won’t find any bland, boiled carrots on the menus of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants. The key differences with the preparation of sabzis to the traditional Chinese stir fry is that they utilise more spices and take longer to cook.
When preparing to begin your Indian stir-fry, choose a wide pan. A traditional Indian wok is known as a kadai but a similar option with sloped sides will work well. The shape of the kadai gives the opportunity for easier stirring and the size provides the space for water to escape so that the vegetables cook effectively.
The kitchen’s your oyster when deciding which ingredients and spices to include in your Indian stir-fry. Veggies that take longer to cook include broccoli, carrot, potatoes and leafy greens such as kale. Those that tend to cook quicker are asparagus, peas, green beans and courgettes. Spices that can withstand the heat for longer and can therefore be added earlier in the cooking process include bay leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, mustard seeds and whole cloves. Shorter-cooking spices include coriander, turmeric, dried chillies and curry leaves whilst the most delicate spices – such as cayenne and cumin – ought to be added towards the end of the cooking process for maximum effect.
The Stir-fry Process
Begin the cooking process by frying the longer-lasting spices in hot oil, allowing them to release their flavour. Spices that need shorter cooking times can be added after a few minutes as well as garlic and ginger, all the while stirring to prevent any sticking or burning. Meats ought to be browned if they are included before the hardier vegetables are added to the mix. Sometimes, with ingredients that need a longer cooking time, they might benefit from being covered, but be aware that those with a low water content like crunchy, green beans, may need a sprinkling of water to help them to soften.
Once everything is cooked to perfection, season and add your most delicate spices for just a minute. Eat on its own or serve up with a portion of rice.