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For novice cook, learning to stir-fry is a step forward

By Betty Shimabukuro

LAST UPDATED: 4:51 p.m. HST, Jul 16, 2013

Some people cook by eyeball. They throw things together in quantities that look right, then cook until it looks right. Others require precision instructions and will not move forward without them.

Both can do great things in the kitchen, the first group of cooks because their instincts are good, the second because they're exacting and careful. Today, we deal with a request out of Group No. 2.

"My friends say stir-fry cooking is so easy because they just throw in this and that but they can't give me an exact measurement of each ingredient, which is what I need," writes Cynthia Hakikawa.

As someone who started cooking about six months ago, Hakikawa has been combing cookbooks for easy recipes. She's on the hunt for instructions for a stir-fry recipe that can be used for beef or chicken and she doesn't want to rely on bottled sauces or marinades. But she's a novice, and doesn't want to guess about anything.

So here we go — a mini-lesson on stir-frying for anyone just starting out.

Basic Stir-Fry Beef with variations

1 pound flank steak, thinly sliced (cut pieces about 1/8-inch wide and 2 inches long, across the grain, which means across the muscle fibers visible in the meat)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup thinly sliced onions

1 cup thinly sliced red bell peppers

10-ounce bag bean sprouts

Sliced green onions, for garnish

» Marinade:

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup oyster sauce

1 teaspoon sesame or chili oil

1-inch piece ginger, peeled, crushed and minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine marinade ingredients. Pour over steak pieces and massage lightly. Let sit at room temperature about 30 minutes.

Heat oil in wok or skillet. Add onions and bell peppers; stir-fry until onions begin to soften.

Add beef with marinade and stir-fry until beef is nearly done, but still a little pink.

Add bean sprouts and cook until beef is done. Garnish with green onion. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 300 calories, 17 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 700 mg sodium, 11 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 28 g protein


» To use with chicken: Start with a pound of chicken breast thinly sliced. You'll need to marinate longer, at least an hour. To lighten the dish, replace all or part of the meat with cubed tofu, marinated 15 minutes.

» The best thing about stir-frying is you can use just about any vegetable that you like, so feel free to mix and match. The easiest are canned items such as sliced bamboo shoots or water chestnuts (drain well). Snow peas and green beans only need to be trimmed. Willing to get out the knife? Carrots, celery, broccoli florets, eggplant and zucchini all work, too. And don't forget the Asian family of greens: choy sum, bok choy, won bok, etc.

» Dried vegetables such as black fungus and shiitake mushrooms add great depth of flavor (soak until soft).

» Cut veggies into uniform pieces and add the hardest ones first (carrots, for example). Soft items like bean sprouts require very little cooking and go in last.

» Visit the Asian aisle of the supermarket and park yourself in front of the jarred sauces. What sounds good? Black bean, chili-garlic, hoisin? Sub it out for the oyster sauce.

» To punch up the marinade, add chilies (a pinch dried or a small fresh one, minced) or a tablespoon of whiskey.


Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S. Email requests to

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Basic Stir-Fry Beef with variations

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