Just as a stitch in time saves nine, a quick trip to the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market at the beginning of this short work week will pay off for busy parents, working people and students. Between the wonderful selection of prepared food and the bountiful stalls of produce, dairy products, meat, fish and eggs, there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to quick mid-week meals.
One way to put a nutritious meal on the table in a hurry is to make a stir-fry. In stir-fries, the meat (or fish or tofu) and vegetables are cut into pieces about the same size, and then quickly cooked in a little oil over high heat in a wok or skillet. The same ingredients can be made into a variety of dishes ranging from delicate to spicy-hot or sweet-and-sour with the addition of spices and sauces. The last time I made a simple stir-fry I didn’t bother to retrieve my wok from its perch on a high shelf, and just used my large skillet. With the addition of steamed rice and fresh fruit, you can serve a balanced mid-week dinner in a little over half an hour.
The Tuesday market has two different stands offering a wide selection of Asian vegetables: Chinese broccoli, baby bok choi, huge bunches of squash leaves, long pale white daikon radishes, cilantro, Thai basil, and so much more. One of the hallmarks of Asian cuisine, though, is its use of fresh, local seasonal produce. So you can make a perfectly wonderful stir-fry with the more familiar “American” broccoli, green and red bell peppers, carrots and other familiar ingredients your less adventurous diners will eat without too much parental coaxing.
This week’s column features a quick and easy stir-fry which can be adapted to whatever ingredients you have at hand or which strike your fancy. An authentic Thai stir-fry for pork with chili, basil and mint leaves follows. You can adjust the heat on this recipe by the amount of chilies you add. Don’t forget to start that pot of rice cooking before you start cooking your stir-fries, so both will be ready at about the same time.
Simple Stir Fry with Oyster Sauce
(serves 4 as main dish or 6 as one of several dishes)
• 1 lb of chicken, beef, pork, firm tofu or any meat of your choice
• 1 – 2 cloves diced garlic, more or less to taste.
• 2 -3 cups vegetables (broccoli, bell peppers, onions or scallions, freshly washed and trimmed spinach, sliced Asian eggplant, the possibilities are endless)
• 1 tbsp oil (peanut oil works well, but canola or safflower or another oil does just fine)
• 1/4 c water
• 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
• 1/3 c oyster sauce
• You can find oyster sauce in any supermarket or Asian speciality store.
• Cut up the meat or tofu into bite size pieces. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders are easy if you’re in a hurry, but any cut of meat or poultry is fine. (Did you know that traditional Asian cooking will frequently use meat with bone in it for the extra flavor it provides?) Cut up the vegetables into bite size pieces about the same size as your pieces of protein.
• Heat your wok or skillet on medium-high heat. Add the oil and diced garlic. When the garlic is just beginning to turn light brown, add the meat, poultry or tofu and stir it around until it is cooked through. Add _ cup water, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the vegetables, cover again and cook for about 5 minutes. If you are using spinach as one of your vegetables, you will want to add the spinach in for the last minute or two of cooking. Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce and stir until all pieces are coated. Reduce temperature to low and simmer a minute or two so the flavors blend. Remove from heat and serve over rice.
• Thai Stir-Fried Pork with Basil, Chili and Mint Leaves
• (serves 2-4)
• 1 lb pork loin, cut into very thin strips (can substitute chicken or beef if desired)
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 or 2 small red fresh Thai chilies, chopped fine (or 2 dried red chilies)
• _ c. water or stock
• 1 egg
• 1 tightly packed cup of fresh Thai basil leaves (if unavailable, substitute sweet basil), chopped
• _ c. tightly packed fresh mint leaves, lightly chopped
• 5 green onions, sliced into 1 _ inch pieces on the diagonal
• 2-3 Tbsp. oil for stir-frying
• Garnish: 1 fresh red chili, sliced
• STIR-FRY SAUCE:
• 2 Tbsp. oyster sauce
• 3 Tbsp. Thai Golden Mountain Sauce (available in Asian markets)
• 1 Tbsp. Vietnamese fish sauce (nam pla)
• 1 tsp. dark soy sauce
• 1 generous Tbsp. brown sugar (or palm sugar, if you have some)
• 2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
• (If you are unable to locate naturally fermented Thai Golden Mountain Sauce, use 1 _ Tbsp. stock and 1 _ Tbsp. Soy sauce and a scant _ tsp. of sugar)
First, mix all the stir-fry sauce ingredients together into a cup, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Next, heat the work or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2-3 tablespoons of oil and swirl around to coat the surface. Add garlic and chili, stir-frying for a minute or less. Add the meat. Stir-fry until it is nearly cooked (5-6 minutes). Add half the water as you stir-fry to keep ingredients sizzling. Push the meat aside and crack the egg into the middle of your wok or skillet. Quickly stir-fry to scramble the egg, then mix it in with the other ingredients. Add stir-fry sauce and stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to medium-low. Allow stir fry to simmer. If necessary, add a bit more water. Chop the basil and mint leaves. Add the remaining water, basil, mint leaves and green onion. Stir well. Reduce heat and taste-test. To adjust seasonings, a little more lime juice will help if the dish is oversalty. Aif it’s not salty enough, a little more fish sauce or Golden Mountain sauce should do the trick. You can always add a little more chili, or serve extra chili on the side for people who prefer a little more spicyness. Serve with Thai Jasmine rice or white rice.
The Culver City Farmers Market is held each Tuesday from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds.
Katie Malich’s first introduction to Thai food was at a little restaurant on a side street in Los Feliz. Chicken with Basil, Chili and Mint Leaves was her all-time favorite.