Extremely Simple Stir Fry

I had a friend who didn't know how to cook at all, and wasn't even sure if she knew how to go to the store and buy things like garlic successfully. This was for her, because I promised. I took her at face value when she said she knew absolutely nothing, so details abound.

Shopping

First, we have a list of ingredients:

1 zucchini (get a small one)*
1 summer squash*
brown basmati rice
soy sauce (do NOT get La Choy or anything else with preservatives. There should be, oh, three or four ingredients listed on the label, and they should look something like: soy beans, wheat, salt, water)
sugar
rice vinegar (though regular white vinegar will do if you don't want to spend the money)
1 clove of garlic
1 green onion
salt
vegetable oil (something like canola oil or peanut oil. olive oil would be a little weird, here)

*If you don't like zucchini and summer squash, you can get other vegetables, instead. Try mushrooms, or bell peppers, or big chunks of onion, or snow peas, or, oh, ask me if you want to run a vegetable by me for this. You can also just do two zucchini or two summer squash and leave the other out.

Print/write the list out and take it to Whole Foods, because Whole Foods is just about the only place where you're going to find the brown basmati rice (though, of course, you can use another kind of rice, but we talked about how you want to try to use more fibrous grains and this particular rice is easier to cook than other brown rice I've tried). You could also get the zucchini, squash, garlic, and onion at the farmer's market, and I highly recommend it.

Regardless of where you get the vegetables: Try to get a zucchini that's fairly small, because they tend to be more tender and tasty when they're little. The same goes for the squash. Neither should have brown spots on them or be at all mushy. Green onions should be a pretty bright green and not droopy and wilty. Usually, you get green onions in a bunch of five to ten. When you're choosing garlic, look for a head with fairly taut skin and no moldy spots. It's okay if it's a little purple looking, though.

That leaves the rice, the soy sauce, the sugar, the vinegar, the salt, and the vegetable oil.

The rice is going to be in the bulk section of Whole Foods. Get a bag off of one of the spools, scoop some of the rice into it (about two scoops, unless you're going to make this a lot or just want to stock up), and then write the big number on the bin on a twist tie (also provided) that you'll use to close the bag.

The soy sauce and rice vinegar are going to be in the Asian section, and it's worth it to go ahead and get a big bottle of soy sauce 'cause it keeps forever and is infinitely useful. In my Whole Foods, that's next to the vegetables, but if you have trouble finding it ask someone (Whole Foods employees are generally really nice).

Sugar, salt, and vegetable oil (assuming you don't already have them) are usually in the same aisle, near the herbs and baking stuff.

None of this stuff should be very expensive. The vinegar and soy sauce will cost the most at about $3-4 a piece, depending on the size.

Equipment

You will need:

A frying pan/skillet sort of thing, about as big around as a dinner plate or bigger. Non-stick makes it all easier.
A spatula, though a spoon will do if you don't have one (if your pan is non-stick, try not to use a metal spatula or a sharp-edged spoon)
A knife.
A cutting board/plate/counter surface you don't mind using as a cutting board.
A sauce pan with a lid that fits, preferably around medium sized but smaller works.

If you don't have one of these things, it's worth it to go ahead and buy 'em if you have the money. If you need to do that and want guidelines for buying, ask me.

The Rice

Put a cup of the rice and two cups of water in your cold saucepan. Add some salt (to taste, but go ahead and use about a teaspoon if you need measurement). Put the pan on your stove and turn it on high. You want this to boil.

While you're waiting for it to boil, get out everything (besides the rice) on your list of ingredients and put them on the counter.

Once the rice and water have started to boil, turn the heat down to low. Wait a minute or two for the boiling to settle down, then put the lid on the pan and ignore it.

Preparation

  1. Clean the zucchini and squash under running water. I never scrub them or anything, I just rinse them, but YMMV.
  2. Cut off both of the ends of the zucchini.
  3. Cut your zucchini length-wise, lay each half flat, and then slice them into little half-discs.
  4. Do the same for the squash (cut off ends, halve 'em, slice 'em up). You can cut them up anyway you want, really, you just want them to be in smallish chunks (think bite-sized, not tiny).
  5. Put the zucchini and the squash in a bowl together, or on a plate, or whatever. You just want them out of your way, and in a position to be easily dumped into the frying pan without it being a long process.
  6. Pry a clove of garlic off of the head of garlic you bought (this may not look as simple as it sounds; try peeling the outer layer off of part of the head of garlic and then just dig your fingernails in into you can get ahold of one of the cloves. It's easiest near the top). Smoosh the clove with the heel of your palm or with the flat of a big knife. After you smoosh it, the papery skin should be easy to pull off. After you pull off the skin, slice the garlic up any old way, as long as it's not in big chunks. You can do this with more than one clove if you like garlic. I usually use two.
  7. Cut off the roots of one of your green onions, and then peel off the outermost layer of the onion's skin. Rinse it under running water, and do it thoroughly.
  8. Slice up the green onion. Go about halfway up the green, and throw away the tops after that.
  9. Put the green onion and garlic aside, together, so they can easily be put in the frying pan (I usually use a saucer or something like for this).
  10. Get out a little bowl, or measuring cup, or something that'll hold a few tablespoonfuls of liquid.
  11. In this bowl, put less than 1/4 of a cup of soy sauce, a splash of vinegar (more if it's rice vinegar, less if it's regular vinegar), and maybe a teaspoon of sugar (I just throw in a pinch or three). Stir that up. Put it aside.

Cooking

  1. Put your frying pan on the stove, and turn the heat on high.
  2. Go ahead and get out the plate you want to use to eat.
  3. Add about a tablespoon of oil to the frying pan, which should be pretty warm. After this point, you need to stay right there in front of the stove.
  4. Toss in the garlic and onion. Stir it around in the oil while it cooks. If you let your pan get nice and hot beforehand, it won't take long before you can smell the garlic and onion and see it turning a little bit brown.
  5. As soon as that happens, add the zucchini and squash. Stir them around a lot, mostly with the goal of getting the garlic and onion mixed up into the vegetables so the garlic and onion don't burn.
  6. Okay, now you can step away from the stove while the squash and zucchini cook a little. Stir your sauce, taste it. Peek in the fridge to see if something new has materialized. Doodle on the wall.
  7. After maybe two or three minutes, if you have the stove on high, your zucchini and squash should be looking a little squishy and a few pieces will have crispy brown edges. At this point, stir your sauce one more time (to mix the sugar in) and dump it in the pan. It will smoke and bubble.
  8. Stir everything. You're trying to coat the vegetables with the sauce.
  9. Let it cook for about a minute while you scoop out some rice (it should be done by now) onto your plate.
  10. The sauce should cook down so that the vegetables look damp, but there isn't a big pool of sauce in the bottom of the pan. If there is a big pool of sauce and you feel like it's gone too long, then I told you to use too much soy sauce (this is my cardinal stir fry sin). It's probably still pretty tasty, though, if a bit soggy.
  11. Your stir fry is done! Dump it out on top of the rice. Salt it if you need to. Turn both burners off.
  12. Eat!

Variations

  1. You can add hot pepper flakes with the vegetables or a jalapeno with the garlic and onion if you want it to be spicier.
  2. You can cook some chicken with the garlic and onion if you want meat, but be sure the chicken is done before you add the vegetables.
  3. You can add peanuts with the garlic and onion if you want, but they'll take longer to cook.
  4. You can leave out the onion, if you don't like 'em.
  5. You can add grated ginger with the garlic and onion.

The variations are infinite, really, and that's the beauty of stir fry and why I think it's one of those things that are useful to try when you want to learn how to cook in general.

Things to Keep in Mind

  1. My ancient electric stove doesn't get very hot, so you may not have the time to step away and doodle on the wall after you add the vegetables and then the sauce. This is especially true if you have a gas stove.
  2. If you're not using a non-stick frying pan, use more oil and keep a very close eye on everything while you're cooking. Stir, stir, stir.
  3. After you're done with everything, soak your rice pan. It really will save you a headache when you're cleaning up.
It really is simpler than it sounds.