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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