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Published July 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Simple stir-fry: Summer vegetables make easy work of a tasty meal

Do you know why people who like to stir-fry a lot love summer? That’s an easy question to answer — if you have a garden or visit a local farmers market on a regular basis.

By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald

Do you know why people who like to stir-fry a lot love summer?

That’s an easy question to answer — if you have a garden or visit a local farmers market on a regular basis.

There’s no way you can compare the taste (and cost) of a stir-fry that’s made with fresh vegetables during the summer with one that’s prepared in the winter using imported greens, vegetables and fruit. Heck, even supermarkets seem to have fresher veggies in the summer, and their prices appear to be cheaper than during the winter months, especially those grown locally.

Perhaps, the biggest reason is that the crispness of fresh vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, is retained through stove-top stir-frying.

While stir-frying once was the domain of Chinese restaurants and fast-food establishments, that’s no longer the case. More people are stir-frying at home than ever. And that’s fantastic, for several reasons.

First, it’s a healthier (unless you absolutely smother ingredients in oil) to eat stir-fry at your own dining room table. Fast-food places traditionally serve unreasonably large portions and have a high meat-to-vegetable ratio. Plus, their sauces often contain way too much sugar or are loaded with sodium.

Second, stir-fries are economical, and a great way to stretch your food budget. (Just ask any impoverished college student.) Fresh vegetables are much cheaper than those prepackaged stir-fry meal kits you can find in the freezer aisle of the supermarkets, and the cost difference between a serving of homemade stir-fry and a fast-food or restaurant version isn’t even close. (Some homemade meatless stir-fries can cost less than 50 cents a serving.)

Finally, stir-fries are simple to make and versatile. They can be made with ingredients you’ll always have on hand. And leftover meat and veggies are perfect for stir-frying.

Stir-fries also make great leftovers, since the flavor from the sauces soaks into the veggies and meats, making them taste just as good or better the next day.

As with other types of cooking, there are a few do’s and don’ts associated with stir-frying:

— Although woks are preferable for stir-frying, any large skillet will do.

— Always start your stir-fry with the ingredients that will take the most time to cook. In most cases, this will be cubes of lean meat or poultry.

— Don’t overcook the vegetables. Remove them before they go limp.

— If you want to increase your whole grains, use brown rice, which is not refined and retains its high-fiber bran coating.

— Fresh ginger is preferable over the pre-minced variety widely available in supermarket produce sections. It offers a richer flavor.

— Your stir-fries don’t need much — if any — soy sauce if you add your own spices.

— As stir-frying is a very quick process, prepare and cut the right ingredients into small pieces, slices, shreds or cubes, etc.

I’m looking at preparing a stir-fry meal within a few days. The broccoli is my garden already is producing (Mom took the first head home last week), and some of my sweet banana peppers, onions and herbs will be ripe for the picking soon. And I have a lot of elk meat left, which lends itself to stir-frying.

Now, all I need are the fortune cookies.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com.

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