Super Stir Frys

Quick, easy, and healthy dishes that will 'wok' your world.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

What cooking technique lets you cook your meal quickly, without a lot of fuss, using only one pan? You can even do it with one hand tied behind your back! It's stir-frying, a technique traditionally associated with Asian cooking.

"Stir-frying" refers to quickly frying small pieces of food in a large pan over very high heat while constantly stirring the food, according to The Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

It's a technique that often comes up in healthy cooking discussions because it's thought to quickly cook food, and make it crispy, with a small amount of fat.

Quick and Easy

Stir-frying isn't rocket science, and that's what's so great about it. It doesn't require lots of fancy equipment. Got a large, thick, nonstick frying pan or wok and a wooden spoon or two? That's all you need.

Martin Yan, TV host and author of Martin Yan Quick & Easy, has eight tips for stir-fry beginners:
  • Cut meat and seafood into bite-size pieces before marinating.
  • Chop all your vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
  • Arrange vegetables in the order they are to be cooked.
  • Mix your sauce ingredients before you start cooking. This allows you to give your undivided attention to the dish you're stir-frying.
  • Preheat your wok or pan. Do not add the oil or other ingredients to the pan until it is hot.
  • "Season" the oil. Many recipes call for the garlic, ginger, shallot, or chili to go into the pan first, to flavor the oil for the cooking that follows.
  • Avoid overcrowding the food in your frying pan or wok. Most recipes call for less than a pound of meat. More than that can make it difficult to cook all the ingredients evenly.
  • Keep things moving in the pan. Remember it's stir-frying, so stir, and don't stare!

3 Steps to a Successful Stir-fry

Here are three simple steps to a successful stir-fry:

  1. Start With a Marinade. Most stir-fry recipes call for marinating the meat for about 10 minutes before the stir-frying begins. This helps to enhance the flavor and seal in the moisture. Cornstarch is often called for, along with a small amount of liquid like soy sauce or rice wine.
  2. Use the Right Oil. Even when you use a nonstick pan or wok, you usually need a little oil to lightly coat the cooking surface. Whatever oil you use needs to stand up to very high temperature heat. I tend to use canola oil but some cookbooks or recipes may call for another oil specifically, such as peanut oil. High flavor oils like sesame oil or chili oil might be called for in a recipe, not as the oil to coat the pan, but as a flavoring for the dish.
  3. Add Your Ingredients. One of the biggest benefits to stir-frying is that it's great way to work in those supernutritious vegetables. Stir-frying keeps veggies bright in color and crisp in texture, which enhances their appeal. Broccoli and cauliflower florets, carrot slices, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, bean sprouts, spinach -- they all stir-fry well. The only trick is adding the vegetables that need more cooking time first. Those that only need to be briefly heated go in toward the end. Even fruits can be stir-fried; some recipes call for pineapple, mango, mandarin oranges, etc.

Stir-fry Recipes

Stir-frying isn't just for dinner entrees. You can stir-fry side dishes -- even breakfast. To get you started, here are some stir-fry recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Cantonese Vegetable Scramble

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 2 eggs alone without added fat + 1/2 cup vegetables with 1 tsp fat

This egg dish makes a quick meal with steamed rice or toast.

3 large eggs (use higher omega-3 eggs if available)
1/2 cup egg substitute
2 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup sugar snap peas, cut in half on the diagonal
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon lower sodium soy sauce
2 green onions, thinly sliced (the white and part of the green)
  • Beat eggs with egg substitute with fork or mixer until thoroughly blended, but not frothy.
  • Place a nonstick frying pan over high heat until hot. Add canola oil, swirling to coat the bottom. Add sugar snap peas and red pepper and stir-fry for a minute to a minute and a half. Add the egg mixture and let it cook, stirring, until the eggs are soft (about 1 minute).
  • Gently stir the egg and vegetable mixture, drizzle the soy sauce over the top, and continue cooking until eggs are done to your liking (about 2 minutes). Sprinkle the green onions over the top and serve.

Yield: 2 servings

Per serving: 230 calories, 18 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 2.7 g saturated fat, 5.5 g monounsaturated fat, 2.4 g polyunsaturated, 318 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 283 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 49%.

Coconut Fried Rice

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 "frozen dinner light, pasta or rice dish" + 1 egg alone without added fat OR 1 cup "starchy foods and legumes with fat"

You can boost the yellow color of the brown rice by cooking the rice in low-sodium chicken broth (made with yellow broth powder and water) instead of water. If you want to add some heat, add a tablespoon (or to taste) of chopped red chilies along with the tomato.

2 large eggs (use higher omega-3 fatty acid eggs if available)
1/4 cup egg substitute
Canola cooking spray
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 sweet or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 teaspoons minced garlic (depending on your preference)
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons catsup
1 cup finely diced tomato
1/4 cup low-fat milk (or substitute whole milk or fat-free half-and-half)
A pinch or two of saffron (available in small jars in the spice section of your market)
A pinch or two of curry powder
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
4 cups cooked brown rice (use a rice cooker, or cook on the stove)
8 ounces or more frozen, cooked, shelled and deveined shrimp, thawed; diced tofu; or cooked and shredded or diced chicken, beef, or pork (optional)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Add eggs and egg substitute to medium bowl and beat with fork until well blended. Coat a large, nonstick wok or frying pan with canola cooking spray and start heating over medium-high heat. Pour in the egg mixture and either scramble or cook like an omelet (your choice). Set cooked eggs aside. If you made an omelet, cut into shreds before setting aside.
  • To the same wok or frying pan, add canola oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and stir-fry until golden (a few minutes). Add salt (if desired), pepper, catsup, and diced tomato, and continue to stir-fry for a minute or two. Meanwhile, add the milk, saffron, curry, and coconut extract to a 1-cup measure and stir to blend.
  • Add the brown rice, shrimp, and coconut milk mixture to the wok with the onion mixture and continue to stir-fry for a couple more minutes. Stir in the cooked egg pieces or strips.
  • Arrange each serving of rice in a bowl and garnish with green onions and cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings (about 1 1/4 cups each)

Per serving (without shrimp): 350 calories, 12 g protein, 59 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 3.9 g monounsaturated fat, 2.2 g polyunsaturated fat, 107 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 181 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 21%.

Orange Mango Chicken

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 cup hearty stew, chili, bean soup + 1 portion fresh fruit OR 1 serving lean meat with 1 tsp fat maximum + 1 portion fresh fruit

2 teaspoons less-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 or 4 half breasts)

1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine (or substitute vodka)
1 tablespoon bottled hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons bottled chili sauce (the tomato-based type, like from Heinz)
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
3 green onions cut into thin, diagonal slices (the white and half of the green)
1 mango, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoon roasted, toasted or flavored almonds (whole, sliced or slivered)
  • Add soy sauce and 1 teaspoon cornstarch to medium bowl and stir to blend. Add chicken pieces and stir to coat with the marinade. Set aside for about 10 minutes.
  • To make the sauce, add orange juice, rice wine, or vodka, hoisin sauce, sugar, chili sauce, and garlic to a 2-cup measure. Stir to blend and dissolve the sugar.
  • Start heating your large, nonstick frying pan or wok over high heat. Once it's hot, add oil and swirl pan to coat the bottom well. Add the chicken and marinade mixture and stir-fry until chicken is cooked through (about 4 minutes). Add orange juice sauce and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Stir in the cornstarch mixture, green onions, and mango. Stir-fry, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens (about 20 seconds).
  • Serve over cooked brown rice. Sprinkle the top of each serving with some toasted or flavored almonds as desired.

Yield: 3 entree servings

Per serving: 284 calories, 36 g protein, 21.5 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 2.3 g monounsaturated fat, 1.4 g polyunsaturated fat, 88 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 347 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%

Published August 11, 2006.

Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2006 Elaine Magee

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

SOURCES: Herbst, S. The Food Lover's Companion, 2nd edition. Martin Yan, author, Martin Yan Quick & Easy.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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