Stir-fries are fast, full of flavour and extremely versatile. But if that’s got you looking forlornly at your wonky wok, electric cooktop or last night’s soggy sweat-fest, then I’m here to tell you all is not lost. In fact, you don’t even need a wok!
The key to a great stir-fry is in the name; it’s about moving ingredients around at a vigorous pace, on a vigorous heat, with as much pan contact as possible. And while woks heat up quickly and offer plenty of surface area to burnish every ingredient, they’re also reliant on flames licking up the sides for the “wok hei” (breath of the wok) or fancy-schmancy induction wok burners that you’ll rarely see beyond commercial kitchens.
So rather than getting stuck on having the necessary equipment, it is very possible to grab any high-sided pan (sans non-stick coating if possible) and stir-fry in it.
Why no non-stick? If you’ve ever read the warranty statement on your non-stick coated pans, they’ll often tell you not to use extreme heat on an empty pan as this can affect the longevity of the coating. If all you have is non-stick, add a tablespoon of the highest smoke-point oil you can find to the pan as it’s heating (I like rice bran oil for this purpose).
I’m using the principles of the classic Cantonese stir-fry, as taught to me by Gilbert Lau, the founder of Melbourne’s Flower Drum restaurant, for a sublime spring-summer stir-fry.
Mangetout (eat all) beans and peas stir-fry with marinated tempeh ‘mince’ and chilli oil – recipe
If your stir-fry regularly turns into a soggy sweat-fest, chances are you’re crowding the pan. A successful stir-fry means allowing enough space in the pan, so each piece of veg, protein or carb has its time in the sun (or hot bit). Like a front-door bouncer at the club, let ingredients enter in small groups; ie batches.
Prep your ingredients in advance. If you’re a speedy bean snapper, you can even do this while the pan heats (five to eight minutes is about right – you want the pan to be smoking!). It helps to have the chopped ingredients in separate bowls – your mise en place – so it’s just a matter of adding one ingredient after another, starting with browning the protein, then working from the slowest to fastest-cooking veg.
Marinated tempeh is an unorthodox addition but it adds a marvellously umami-rich moment to this vegan recipe and, when mashed up, looks and feels surprisingly mince-like. If you can’t find marinated tempeh, or would prefer to simplify, just keep to the green beans and peas and have this dish more as a side.
Grab whatever combination of beans and snow peas you have to hand – whatever’s cheapest, really. For speedy processing, I snap the tops off snow peas and pull towards the tails so the string comes off clean. Use your hands to top the green beans and snap bunches in half – there’s no need to slice or tail.
A revelatory tip from Lau is blanching veg such as beans, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower and the like before stir-frying. This means you’re not cooking them in the wok – just burnishing for flavour, while ensuring every piece of veg is toothsome but not woody. His kitchens – first Flower Drum, then Lau’s Family Kitchen – had little bowls of pre-blanched veg ready to go into the wok to order.
Brassicas such as broccoli and cauliflower need three minutes in the boiling pot, while beans and snow peas only need a minute or two.
Serve with lovely steamed jasmine rice, which will soak up the sauce, and store-bought chilli oil. This is a light, bright, nourishing meal that you’ll want to mangetout (which is what the Brits call snow peas, but aptly means “eat all” in French!).
200g marinated tempeh (I like the Perth-based Tallyho Farm brand)
60ml neutral oil, ¼ cup – choose one with a high smoke point (I like peanut or rice bran here)
800g mix of green beans, snow peas and sugar snap peas, topped; green beans snapped in half
4 spring onions stalks, cut into 3cm lengths
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1 tbsp store-bought peanut chilli oil
Steamed jasmine rice, to serve
For the stir-fry sauce
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp grated garlic
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
Heat a large high-sided frying pan (or wok) for five to eight minutes on medium heat until smoking. At the same time, bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil.
While the pan heats up, make the stir-fry sauce. In a bowl combine the ginger, garlic, veg stock, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and cornflour. Whisk well and set aside.
Use your hands to roughly mash the tempeh, still in its packet. Add half of the oil to the pan and, when it is shimmering, add the mashed tempeh. Use a wooden spoon to smush the tempeh further into a mince-like consistency. Stir about until the tempeh mince has heated through, with some caramelised edges, then transfer to a bowl. Turn off the heat but don’t wash the pan – you’ll need it later.
In the pot of boiling water, add the halved green beans (if using) and cook for two minutes. Add the snow peas and sugar snap peas and cook for one more minute. Drain in a colander and set aside.
Heat the (unwashed) frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the remaining oil, and when shimmering, add the spring onion. Stir-fry the spring onion for one minute, then remove. Add the blanched beans and snow peas (stand back, as they might spit a little) and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. (If your pan is not large enough to accommodate all the greens at once, do this in batches.)
If you’ve cooked the greens in batches, return them all to the pan.
Whisk the sauce again. Add to the pan, along with the tempeh and spring onions. Bring the sauce to the boil and cook for a minute until the sauce is glossy. Add half of the roasted peanuts. Taste, and add more soy sauce or salt and pepper if needed.
Serve over steamed rice and topped with the remaining peanuts and chilli oil.