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Stir-fry That Broccoli

Okay, okay, broccoli-lovers take exception to my having cast asparagus at their favorite veggie. Several people remarked that the idea of stir-frying the stuff (my strategy for making it palatable) sounds pretty good. IMHO, it’s even better when converted into soup, a plan for which follows.

Here’s the thing: you can stir-fry a pile of bargain or garden-fresh veggies, let them cool, and then bag them in meal-sized Ziplock bags to use as the basis of future stir-fry meals, with or without  meat. Or you can just stir-fry enough for a single meal, either as a fully vegetarian dinner or as a side dish.

Here’s how to make broccoli more or less edible to go with a larger meal:

Get your hands on…

a head of fresh, crisp broccoli
an onion
one or two large cloves (or three or four small cloves) garlic
a lemon
vegetable oil (olive oil is nice)
optionally, a bottle of soy or Worcestershire sauce

Cut off the broccoli florets. Reserve the stems to make broccoli soup (below). Be sure the florets are fairly small; if necessary, cut the larger chunks in half.

Coarsely chop the onion. Mince the garlic. Slice the lemon in half.

I like to precook the onion a little because sautéeing it until it’s soft and even beginning to brown brings out its sweetness. But it’s not necessary. If you choose to do this, skim the bottom of the pan with some oil, toss the chopped onion around in it to coat, and let it cook gently, over medium-low heat, until the onion is translucent and sweet. Then turn up the heat to medium high, add the broccoli florets and garlic, and stir the veggies around until the broccoli is heated through and turns an even brighter green than it already is. If you decide not to precook the onion, just toss the whole mess into the oil in the pan and cook together over medium heat (this will give you crisper onion pieces with a sharper onion flavor).

As the veggies are verging on being done, squeeze half a lemon over them. If you like your veggies salty and Asian-flavored, add some soy sauce. Worcestershire sauce is a good substitute if you have no soy sauce in the pantry.

Serve quickly, piping hot.

To prepare a mountain of veggies for future stir-fries:

a collection of fresh veggies, whatever strikes your fancy
garnish-like additions such as bean sprouts and canned water chestnuts
grated ginger
an onion or two
plenty of garlic
vegetable oil
optional: sesame oil

Clean the vegetables and cut them into one- or two-inch pieces. Gather them into mounds according to the amount of time they’ll take to cook. Onion, broccoli, carrots, and celery like take the longest, so they will go into the pan first. Bell peppers, summer squash, asparagus, Napa cabbage, and mushrooms take less time to cook; put them into the after the first round of veggies have been there for a few minutes. Finally, garlic, ginger, and leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard, or baby bok choy go in last.

So, skim the bottom of the pan with your vegetable oil. If you have sesame oil, add a few drops—a little goes a long way. Preheat the pan long enough to get the oil hot but not smoking.

Then start adding veggies in order, from the longest-cooking to the fastest cooking. The last things to add should be your leafy veggies; stir-fry these just until they’re wilted.

Since you’re going to store these in the freezer for future use, hold the soy sauce and tofu. These can be added when you bring out the veggies to complete the final meal.

To do this, you’ll need…

the frozen veggies (defrost if they’ve clumped together; if not, you probably can toss them into the pan frozen)
skinless chicken breast, reasonably tender beef or pork, shrimp, or scallops
minced or grated ginger
soy sauce (or Worcestershire, in a pinch)
hoisin sauce, if desired
lemon juice, if desired
little green onions, if desired
bean sprouts, if desired
cooked rice

Slice chicken, beef, or pork into thin pieces (about 1/4-inch thick).  Shrimp should be peeled; otherwise shrimp or scallops can be used whole. Dry the tofu on a paper towel or clean kitchen towel and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch pices.

Cook a pot of rice. When the rice is done, proceed with the stir-fry:

Again, skim a pan with vegetable oil; if desired, add a few drops of sesame oil. Preheat over medium-high heat. Working quickly, place the meat or shellfish into the hot oil. Stir as it cooks. Add the tofu. Add some soy sauce. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top. Add the frozen vegetables, stirring and tossing in the pan. While they cook, add the ginger. Add more soy sauce and lemon juice to keep the pan from going dry. As soon as the veggies are hot, add sprouts, and scallions, as desired.

And voilà! Dinner is served! Mound some rice in the middle of a plate and top with a serving of stir-fried meat and veggies.

What about all those woody stems from the broccoli?

These are the makings of a killer broccoli soup. You’ll need this stuff:

broccoli stems
another onion
maybe a little garlic, if you please
chicken broth or water
maybe a little sherry, if you like
milk or cream
butter, if desired
olive oil or vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
a blender or immersion blender

Cut the stems into manageable chunks. Coarsely chop the onion and the optional garlic. In a stock pot or large, deep frying pan, sauté the onion in oil, very slowly, until it’s well cooked and soft, even beginning to caramelize. Add the cut-up broccoli stems. Stir these around in the oil until they’re beginning to cook. Add garlic if desired.

Then add enough chicken broth, water, or both to cover the vegetables. Turn up the heat to DayGlo blast and stand there (do not leave the stove!) until the soup just starts to come to a boil. As bubbles start to roil, immediately turn the heat down. If you’re using an electric stove, you’ll need two burners for this trick: bring the soup to a boil on one burner. Meanwhile, have another burner turned on to “low.” Move the pan to the burner with the lower heat as soon as the stock comes to a boil. Adjust the heat to keep the broth at a steady, slow simmer.

Now let the veggies cook until the broccoli stems are soft all the way through when poked with a knife or fork. When they reach this state, turn off the heat and allow the food to cool a bit.

Run everything through your blender, a cup or two at a time, and collect the purée in a big bowl or large pan, or use your immersion blender to purée the soup in the cooking pan.

Finish the soup by adding milk or cream to taste, and, if desired, melt some butter into it. A dash of sherry gives the soup some panâche. Season with salt and pepper. It’s very nice when served with a dollop of yogurt over the top.

Image: Broccoli and Cross-sections. By Fir0002, GNU Free Documentation License.

2 thoughts on “Stir-fry That Broccoli”

  1. A question from a lazy person. I like vegetables a lot. But this seems like a lot of work. Are the home-frozen veggies any better than the stir-fry mix you can buy in the frozen section of any grocery? It seems that freezing would nullfy the crispness of the stir-fry method.

    Also, olive oil has a low burning point, so is not the best for stir-fry. And the flavor of olive oil is not Asian.

    Boy! Do I sound like a crab or what?

  2. @ frugalscholar: LOL! Great lazy-person questions!

    If you refrain from adding soy and ginger, you end up with an Italianate effect. I don’t stir-fry over blow-torch temps, tho’ I know that’s the authentic method. Nor do I let the olive oil sit in an empty pan over the heat any length of time. Soon as the pan is warm, in go the goodies.

    On the question of fresh home-frozen vs. stir-fry, I dunno. It would depend, of course, on whether you were growing veggies in your garden and so had a great bounty or maybe you found a vast supply of broccoli (urk) on sale.

    I’ve stir-fried store-bought frozen veggies directly out of the bag with great success. The ones that seem to work best are the ones in the “steam-in-the-bag” line. Don’t know why, but those things stir-fry like a charm, no matter whether you intend to doll them up with Asian seasonings or toss them into your spaghetti.

    Lordie! I shouldn’t have written about on any such subject as dawn was cracking. Sat through the entire choir session this morning craving stir-fry. And so, to toss the last of the frozen scallops together with the last of the frozen veggies, to be exquisitely layered over a mound of steaming rice.

    Think I’ll try adding a dash of curry. Hmmm….Come to think of it, I have some coconut cream…naaaahhhh! This is getting out of control!

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