Roy, Farmer, and I spent an exhausting day off-Island yesterday, driving around in the truck to assorted malls, stores, and appointments, loading up with supplies for various building projects, for the garden, and for life in general. By last night, coming back on the 6:15 boat, the three of us felt like we’d moved into the cab of the Ford, with Farmer’s kibble and water bowls on the floor, our empty coffee cups strewn all around, and the usual collection of reading material I can’t go anywhere without (several magazines, a few books, and a newspaper) covering every surface. One day off-Island was enough for us. We were ever so glad to get home.
Quick dinner thoughts raced through my head as I stumbled into the barn to grab an onion. In the dark my fingers fumbled around in the wooden crate, feeling for something hefty and round but only coming up with papery skins at first. Finally my hand settled on a little onion—the last one of our own, ordered from Dixondale Farms last February, planted last May, harvested last September, cured and stored all winter long. I am pleased we got all the way to February with our own onions, but I’m sad that it will be September before we see one again. Actually, maybe it will be sooner as I intend to overplant this year and harvest some bulbs as spring onions.
Onions (actually all of the lovely allium family, including leeks, scallions, chives and garlic) have been popping up on my radar a lot lately. Yesterday I leafed through a new issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine and my eyes fell on the most stunning photographs of alliums, courtesy of a feature called The Early Onion. Then I happened to watch a video on growing onions over at Vegetablegardener.com. I just placed my onion order for the garden, too. This year I’m going to grow a good storage onion called Copra, in addition to the gorgeous Ailsa Craig and Big Daddy onions I grew last year.
As much as I love to start vegetable dishes with some kind of allium (the promise of deep flavor), I knew I needed something more than my one little onion to get veggies on the table last night. So I did a fast fridge fly-through, retrieved a bit of broccoflower, some mushrooms, a carrot, and a bell pepper and focused on a technique I used for a a yummy veggie fried rice coming in The Fresh & Green Table. I diced all the veggies (including the onion) into very small pieces (no fussing here—exact dice are not necessary!) and heated a couple tablespoons of oil in my favorite (non-stick) stir-fry pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil was hot, I added the veggies, cranked up the heat to high, and started stirring. After about 3 minutes, I added a little chopped ginger and garlic, continued cooking for about 30 seconds, and brought the pan off the heat. The veggies were done!
This sounds like a no-brainer quick stir-fry, but there are two important things at work here. First, normally you wouldn’t throw onions and peppers into the pan at the same time as dense veggies like carrots and broccoflower. If all the veggies were cut into larger pieces, the softer veggies would be burned by the time the denser veggies softened up. But by cutting everything very small (and you can use most any vegetable except for the very densest) and turning the heat to high (after the veggies go in the pan—nonstick should not be heated beyond medium-high when empty), the cooking happens really fast. There’s an explosion of moisture as the veggies tumble around the pan, and that translates to steam to help tenderize the denser veggies a bit and to keep the softer ones from burning. You need to watch closely though, as somewhere between three and four minutes the steam transitions to smoke when excess moisture is used up. But by then the veggies are nicely browned and crisp-tender—perfectly delicious.
You can eat the veggies as is (plenty tasty) or you can add a little finishing sauce like the Thai-flavored one I’ve suggested below. Chopped fresh herbs are optional, too, depending on just how much of a rush you’re in. Without the sauce or herbs, you can be done, start to finish, in less than 15 minutes. Starting with three cups of veggies yields plenty for a side-dish for two, but you can up the amount a bit, stretch the cooking time a touch, and make a bit more for three or four.
Teeny Veggie Stir-Fry with Optional Sauce
Serve these with rice and a flat-omelet egg for a vegetarian supper.
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoons Asian chili-garlic sauce
For the stir-fry:
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
3 cups veggies, cut into small (3/8- to1/2-inch) pieces (Choose as many as you like, but at least four of the following for a total of 3 cups: bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, bok choy, snow peas, sugar snap peas, or carrots)
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro or mint (optional)
For the (optional) sauce:
In a small bowl, mix together the fish sauce, lime juice, 2 teaspoons water, brown sugar, and chili-garlic sauce.
For the stir-fry:
In a large (12-inch) nonstick stir-fry pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (it will loosen up), add the 3 cups veggies and 3/4 teaspoon salt, turn the heat to high, and cook, stirring, until the veggies are crisp-tender, slightly shrunken, and lightly browned, about 3 minutes (4 at the most). Add the garlic, the ginger, and the scallions. Stir-fry briefly, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the sauce mixture (if using). Stir until the sauce thickens and reduces slightly. Fold in herbs if using and serve right away.