Food Guilt and Veggies (Thai Stir Fry)

I always thought I was a pretty healthy eater, that is until I started to write down what I ate each day. Heh. Turns out there was a significant gap between my imagination and reality. Yeah, yeah. I can hear you laughing. It’s ok. I deserve it! I guess that explains why I have been slowly gaining weight instead of maintaining or even losing. :-p My new mantra is “More veggies! More veggies!” The following recipe easily plunks 3 to 4 servings onto a dinner plate and is delicious to boot. After all, just because it’s good for us, doesn’t mean it can’t taste great as well. Added bonus: It’s a great way to use up some of the basil taking over your garden in this part of the summer. No basil? Substitute fresh baby spinach.

Thai Stir Fry with a side of fresh papaya. 🙂

Thai Stir Fry: 4 generous servings

2 c. uncooked long grain rice (I use organic brown rice. It takes longer to cook but has a nutty flavor and the extra fiber keeps me full longer.)
Chicken broth

3/4 c. reduced fat organic coconut milk
3 T. reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari
3 T. rice wine vinegar
2 T. sweet chili sauce
1 1/2 T. fish sauce
1 t. red pepper flakes

1 T. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, roughly shopped
2 c. fresh basil leaves, rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 sweet red bell pepper, cleaned, seeded and sliced
2 red jalapeno peppers, cleaned, seeded and minced
2 small yellowneck or zucchini squash, sliced into bite-sized chunks
10 shitake or crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 T. fresh ginger, minced

Carnivore Option:
2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces and marinated in 1/2 c. teriyaki sauce or soy sauce and orange juice (50-50)
Vegetarian Option:
1 package firm tofu, drained and weighted to squeeze out the extra water and then marinated in soy/orange juice mixture (50-50)

There are a couple of helpful things you need to know before you do any stir fry. The first is that it’s all about the chopping….which can seem to go on forever. However, once everything is cut up and ready to cook, it’s all done in less than 10 minutes flat! Second important fact: it works best if you have a really hot stove. I get the best results over a gas range. I use a heavy pan which can take the heat (cast iron) and get the pan HOT before I start cooking. Last, be prepared to eat as soon as the veggies go into the pan or they will overcook and get soggy, limp and uninspiring. You *want* the veggies to still be a bit crispy for the best flavor.

Start by getting the rice started on the stove. I never measure but instead use a technique I learned years ago out of a Mennonite cookbook. Again, I use brown rice which takes approximately 45 minutes to cook on top of the stove. If you have a rice cooker, follow the directions. I had one once but gave it away because I never use it. Back to the Mennonite rice measuring trick: Pour the amount of dry rice you think you will need into a cooking pot keeping in mind that the rice will roughly double in size and that one serving (on the plate) is roughly one-half cup. Rinse the rice under running water and drain. Add chicken broth into the pot until the amount of chicken broth is above the level of the TOP of the rice UP TO the first knuckle of your index finger (when touching the top of the rice with your index finger.) This is assuming that your hands are clean, of course! If you want to eye-ball it instead of sticking your finger into the chicken broth, it’s roughly 1″ of liquid above the top of the rice. No, it doesn’t have to be exact. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. When the mixture reaches a boil, put a lid on the pot and turn the heat down to simmer. Set the timer for 40 minutes. Don’t peek into the pot until the timer goes off. If there is any moisture left at the end of the cooking, it will get absorbed while you are finishing preparing dinner.

Now…cut, chop and dice all the veggies. Group the veggies by how long they take to cook. You might have 2 or 3 bowls. (Example: carrots & bell peppers, mushrooms & onions, garlic & basil leaves)

In a small bowl add the coconut milk, soy sauce, rice wine, sweet chili sauce and the red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and set aside to the end.

Approximately 15 minutes before you are ready to eat, heat a large heavy skillet over a hot flame. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and swirl in the pan to coat. Add the protein that you have chosen for this meal (chicken, tofu, beef, whatever) and cook each side till browned. remove from pan.

Add a bit more olive oil and add the most firm, longest cooking veggies. Gently stirring, cook for a few minutes letting one side get a bit browned. (The browning process caramelizes the sugars and adds a pleasing layer of flavor.). Scoot the thickest veggies to one side of the pan and the medium thick veggies and continue cooking. The overall idea is to keep the surface of the pan HOT. You don’t want to add so much to the pan that the veggies start steaming in their own juices and getting soggy. When the veggies are *almost* done (crisp/tender), add the most tender/delicate veggies, the meat and the reserved sauce to the pan. Stir gently to combine and heat through. Serve immediately over rice. Yes, there are likely three times as many veggies as meat but you won’t even miss the meat because this dish has so much flavor! Net result? A tasty serving of 3 to 4 veggies in one sitting! Woot!

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