Choose Your Own Stir-Fry Adventure

A few months ago we served up the popular “Choose Your Own Salad Adventure” post, and we got comments galore. Salads, after all, are perfect PB fare: a diverse veggie base, assorted protein pairings, and various choices for the inclusion of yummy (and filling) fats. As much as we adore our PB salads, we readily admit that salad isn’t the only contender here. We’re happy to introduce the MDA Stir-Fry Adventure. Yes, that hot, tasty, quick flash of a cooking spectacle that leaves ingredients full of nutrients and loaded with flavor. It’s one way to throw together a magnificent PB dinner with little effort and time. Got quality ingredients around? You’re good to go. Get your woks (and pans) ready. We hope you dig in.

Veggie Base

Vegetables are truly the genuine and beloved base for traditional stir fry. The options are nearly endless. Chop up your own creative combination into bite-size pieces. One to two cups per person is a good place to start.

Bok Choy



Turnip Greens

Snow Peas

Water Chestnuts

Bamboo Shoots

Bean Sprouts

String Beans


Celery Cabbage


Mustard Greens





Bell Peppers (all colors)

Chili Peppers




Lesser Known Tasty Tidbits

Chinese Winter Melon

Bitter Melon

Protein Pairings

Ah, the protein. What’s not to love? It’s muscle-building, stick-to-your-bones goodness. Go for that stack-of-playing-cards size serving. (Or go whole hog and add more if you’re so inclined.) Cut into bite-size pieces and cook in the wok/pan for best results. Feel free to also use precooked meat (i.e. leftovers).

Chicken (light or dark meat or liver)







Spare Ribs (Pre-cook and serve over stir-fried veggies.)











Red Snapper

Sea Bass



Scrambled Egg (Add after cooking.)

Nuts (Almonds and cashews are most common. Add after cooking.)

Seeds (Sesame seeds are common. Add after cooking.)

Bean Curd/Tempeh (We’d recommend limiting bean curd, but include it in small amounts if you’re a super fan. Cook as you would meat pieces.)


Traditional stir-fry cooks food very quickly at very high heat, whereas many at-home cooks modify the method by sautéing at slightly lower temps more practical for the kitchen equipment (e.g. fry pans and regular stove) they have. Either way, you’ll be cooking at high temps. Be sure to use an oil or fat that can take the heat for the actual cooking itself and add less hearty but flavorful oils at the end. (See our “How Hot Is Too Hot?” post for some high heat selections.) Naturally refined oils, chicken fat, and light olive oil are common options.

Chicken Fat

Extra light olive oil

Refined palm or coconut oil

Refined avocado oil

Spice and Other Kicks

Spices, seasonings, sauces, and other liquid flavorings are often but not always added at the end of the cooking process. (Garlic and fresh ginger can be added first to flavor the oil and then uniformly be absorbed into the other ingredients.) For other spices and flavoring liquids, their late introduction leaves enough time for the flavor to be released without being watered down or too melded with the other flavors.





Soy Sauce

Sesame Oil

Nut Oils

Sweet Bean Sauce (hoi sin deung)




Tabasco Sauce

Oyster Sauce

Celery Salt

Shrimp (or other seafood) Paste

Salt and Pepper, of course

Chicken, Beef or Fish Stock

Citrus Juice (Add after cooking.)

Looking for more in the way of how-to? We gotcha covered. Advanced and otherwise creative stir-fry cooks may have varying methods, but this should get the average novice well on the way to a great stir-fry dish.

Basic Rundown

Cut all meats and veggies into small, bite-sized pieces. (Meats can be cooked separately and then cut, but this is unnecessary if you cut your pieces small enough and use high heat.) Heat a wok or heavy fry pan without oil or liquid. Once heated, add enough oil to coat the pan. (We’ll use extra light olive oil here.) Lower the heat to medium and for 20-30 seconds heat the chopped clove of garlic and 1/3 onion. Stir these and all ingredients constantly. Add salt, pepper and meat. Return heat to high. Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. (Note: At this stage, it’s generally recommended that you remove the meat to add again later with the last ingredients. Many people also wash the pan. If you’re going for convenience, the world won’t end if you simply leave the meat in the pan and proceed.) Add bite-size pieces of veggies that are thicker or take longer to cook (e.g. broccoli, carrot slivers, finely sliced red bell pepper, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts). You can also blanche larger or denser veggies prior to making the stir fry. Add 1 Tbsp. sherry. Cover and cook 1 minute without stirring. Add second group of veggies – greens and ingredients whose crispness you want to retain (e.g. snow peas, bok choy). Cook for one additional minute uncovered, stirring constantly. Add chosen spices and liquid flavorings (e.g. 1 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce, ¼ cup chicken stock) with teaspoon of cornstarch (no, a single tsp won’t kill ya) if you desire a thicker sauce. Cook an additional 20-30 seconds. Top with scallions and dash of sesame oil if desired.

Ultimately, the brief cooking time in stir fry should preserve the individual taste and nutritional “integrity” of all the ingredients in the dish. Each veggie, meat and other ingredient should retain its own flavor but come together “just enough” through the infusion of spice and essences. The result? A culinary symphony that’s always new, always varied and sure to please.

Consider it a much healthier meal that lets you “have it your way.”

Have your own favorite combinations to share? Other ingredient options to add to the list? Do share!

Pete Ashton, iandeth, Brunna Peretti, Florian, joannitam Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Primal Breakfast Suggestions for People on the Go

Safe Cooking Temperatures

Top 10 Ingredients that Will Make Your Meals Pop

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30 thoughts on “Choose Your Own Stir-Fry Adventure”

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  1. I’m not terribly versed in vegetables. The last time I made stir fry, I added what I thought was bok choy. It turned out to be rhubarb. No good.

  2. Might I also suggest a dash of white wine to stir fry. Just don’t use Reisling.

  3. My mother makes a good stir fry. I love stir fry however I do like my stir fry with steak and teriyaki sauce!

  4. Not sure if it fits the PB, but adding in some pineapples would be delicious.

  5. The shrimp stir-fry- sauteed shrimp and veggies tossed in a skillet…

    possibly the perfect post workout meal.

  6. I think peanut butter is great addition to stir fry (the sauce) I mix .25c. water, .25c soy sauce, 2tbs peanut butter, a dash of ginger, crushed red pepper, and 1 garlic clove minced in a sauce pan. Warm until the peanut butter has melted. Its great on chicken and any mixture of veggies!

  7. Lately I’ve been tossing my finished stir fry on top of some salad leaves. It’s like an extra special hot salad, yumm.

    Oh and I swear by shrimp+walnut oil.

  8. 1. deck of cards size for protein? i like a lot more than that. i see you say we can add more portotein but how much is too much. hiw about 2x or 3x the deck of cards (assuming lean chicken, lean turkey, or fresh salmon)?

    2. coconut oil??? I thought this was bad for you. and what about sunflower oil?

    thanks for the great blog and also for being a nice guy and putting up with all of our sometimes dumb questions/comments!

  9. I LOVE PB2!! (Thats usually what I put in my stir fry!) Its defiantly one of my favorite new food discoveries! (Have you heard that they are going to be coming out with a chocolate PB2 soon??…prolly not great for stir fry tho…

  10. Does extra light olive oil really have that high of a smoke point? I had no idea. I stay away from that stuff because I like the taste of olive oil, and so extra light seems silly. If I can use it for stirfrying (which I do ALL THE TIME), excellent!

  11. Oh, and stock up on ginger. That stuff is like crack when it’s in a stirfry.

  12. Okay. Last comment. You should highlight that light olive oil is very processed. I noticed on your other chart, you mention the higher smoke point oils are processed, with the exception of the extra light olive oil. That’s slightly misleading.

  13. I was just recently thinking that I must learn to make different stir fries as I always end up making the same one. This has given me lots of ideas! Thanks!

  14. Regarding the coconut oil

    I use it in my post workout protein shakes, but I find the ‘coconutty’ flavor a little too much in my stir frys.

    It overpowers most of the other ingredients.

    This is due to the fact that I always buy the organic, unrefined product.

    Am I to assume that the refined stuff has lost some of the natural flavor.

    If so, do you have any idea of the refining procedure. I prefer to stay away from the refined olive oils as they use hexane, caustic soda, and naphthaleneacetic acid in the refining process.

    If you have a preferred refined coconut oil, could you post a link to their site?

    Loved the first comment – rhubarb in a stir fry – Blech!

  15. Amanprana extra virgin brand has little coconut taste when used for cooking. Are you sure you’ve been using the extra virgin? Because it’s the stuff that needs to be kept in the fridge that has the most overpowering flavour.

  16. I just made my first stir fry tonight here, not even in a proper work, but I’m in NZ without everything I need, so I’ll make due.

    It was amazing! Beef and broccoli. So damn tasty. Soy sauce, beef, broc, some garlic pepper seasoning. Best stir fry I’ve ever had!

    Now I have the confidence to start adding more stuff. I sadly cannot find any coconut oil in Welly so I’m using olive oil, but it’s working out well and I was very pleased with the flavor.

    In New Zealand, grass fed beef is the norm! I need search no further than my local grocery store. It’s fantastic! Tomorrow I’m going to get some venison and more veggies and maybe more spices. Very excited. Onward!

  17. Actually, rhubarb in a stir fry is quite nice (done properly, at least)! I’ve done one loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe which had a hot and sour rhubarb sauce, and I’ve come across several other recipes on the internet for stir fries containing rhubarb. Quite a lot of stir fry recipes have a sour but fruity element, which rhubarb works well for.

  18. Mine didn’t come out too nicely, but then again, I didn’t follow the directions, so I probably should have expected that! XD

  19. I made this with great success. Beef and a whole mess of vegetables. What made it really stand out was about 1 tsp of fresh ginger that I threw in with the garlic. Next time I’ll double the ginger, it gave it a really nice bite.

  20. This marks my first primal cooking attempt and I couldn’t have done better. Mixing lemon juice with soy sauce, ginger and garlic is pretty fantastic. Directions were spot-on. The chicken was perfection, as was everything else. I’m gonna sleep easy tonight.

  21. I’m a bit late to the party, but I wanted to mention a stir-fry I had while in the Philippines – pinakbet. It has some additional ingredients not found on the list above: crushed, chopped garlic, chopped onion, tomato chunks or wedges, okra chunks, kubota squash peeled & cubed, cut yard-long beans, sliced Oriental eggplant, sliced ampalaya (bitter melon – if you can handle the flavor, but even just a little gives this a distinctively different flavor). Traditionally this is made with pork, but other meats could be used. After stir-frying veggies and meat to doneness, you can add patis (fish sauce) or baguoong (shrimp paste), along with a sprinkle of coconut aminos, if desired. Salt and pepper to taste. Filipinos traditionally add a little sugar, so if you are inclined you could add a tsp. of honey.

    Please note that you don’t want to burn your garlic in any stir-fry. I try to add it in closer to the end of cooking to avoid that. Also, do not add either patis or baguoong to a hot pan on the stove – trust me on this. And toasted sesame oil also makes a nice finish to stir-fries, again added after cooking as a finish.

    1. Soy sauce isn’t primal, because it’s made with soy. Also because 98-something percent of soy beans in the US are GMO. But fish sauce and baguoong are definitely primal, and the use of fish sauce goes back to ancient Greece. MDA has a post on this subject you can look up.

      I have a bottle of Red Boat 40ºN which is pretty good stuff, and I recently got a trial-size bottle of BLiS fish sauce, and I will definitely be buying more. If you’re interested in using a baguoong sauce, most Filipinos tended to prefer the Alamang sauce (made using krill).

  22. I’m still not sure how to make a sauce or what you can cook it in that is not coconut oil? Thanks

  23. How about spaghetti squash or yam noodles (konnyaku? sp?)? Or even kelp noodles?

  24. I would recommend eliminating the recommendation to use Palm kernel oil for stir fry. Palm oil production is really bad for the environment since thousands of acres of rainforest are burned down annually to make room for palm tree farms to source oil production. Please protect the rainforests!