Healthy Recipe Essentials: Stir-Fry

by in Healthy Recipes, Healthy Tips, February 15, 2011
Beef Stir Fry
Beef Stir Fry - Image Courtesy Food Network Magazine

In this new series, we’ll show you a basic healthy cooking technique, then share many ways to mix it up. You’ll get tons of healthy dinner ideas, no recipes needed.

Stir fries are a quick and easy weeknight dinner: They make a well-balanced meal with a bit of protein, tons of veggies and healthy carbs from rice. We’ll run you through the basic steps to get you started, then share a few ideas to liven things.

Stir-Fry Basics
A basic stir-fry is made from a protein and tons of veggies. The slicing and dicing takes a little time; you can do it either the night before or in the morning before work to save some time in the evening. In a pinch, look for pre-sliced veggies in your grocery store’s produce section.

Once the ingredients are prepped, here are your basic steps:

  1. Heat oil: Heat up your wok with a touch of oil. Use a flavorless oil with a high smoke point, like canola or grapeseed. This is what makes or breaks the calories of your stir-fry.  Remember, every tablespoon of any oil contains 120 calories—so use it sparingly!
  2. Add protein: Raw foods like beef, pork, fish, shrimp, tofu and chicken should be cooked first. Don’t forget to brown all sides of the food to create flavor.
  3. Add veggies: Add veggies and cook them until just tender — overcooking will destroy important vitamins, not to mention flavor. Whatever mixture you choose, cut veggies in so they’ll all finish cooking at the same time. For instance, carrots take longer to cook than snow peas, so they should be cut smaller.
  4. Add  flavor: A touch of soy sauce or spices to finish it off.
  5. Serve over carbs: Cook up some healthy carbs like brown rice or rice noodles to serve alongside.

Watch Rachel Ray’s step-by-step instructions on how to prepare a basic beef stir-fry.

The Protein
If you’re used to using chicken, shake it up by using beef or pork. Or try shrimp — it’s ridiculously low in calories! If you’re looking for a Meatless Monday dish, try a using extra-firm tofu.  It contains the same amount of protein as chicken or beef, but without the cholesterol.

The Veggies
Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, snap peas, bell peppers, water chestnuts, baby corn or peas…the possibilities are endless! Use as many or as few veggies as you want. If you’re cooking for kids, you may want to choose only a few veggies (younger kids especially like simpler dishes). Remember, the more colors you have, the more vitamins and minerals you’re taking in.

Flavor
Some simple flavor enhancers include garlic, ginger, chili sauce, chicken stock, rice vinegar, dry sherry, scallions and hoisin sauce. Dana’s stir-fry secret is to use a tablespoon of natural peanut butter and let it melt in with soy sauce – delicious!

The Carb
Choose brown rice for some extra whole grain goodness—remember to read the cooking instructions as it takes a bit longer to cook up than white rice. For a change of pace, try serving over whole grain pasta or rice noodles. Keep portions to no more than 1 cup per person of whichever cooked carb you choose.

Recipes to Try:

TELL US: What’s your favorite stir-fry combination?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (232)

  1. I love stir fries that include nuts like cashews or, like Dana, a taste of almond or peanut butter.

  2. yum, i also love peanut butter in my Asian food. as for stir frys, not everyone has a wok. real woks are much different than non stick pans shaped like woks.

    • Thi says:

      I am an industrial design student, working on a project and need to do research on stir frying. Would you be willing to answer a survey about stir frying for me? It would greatly help me in my design process. If so, please click on this link.
      https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/93X9TQR

      Thank-you so very much for you participation. If you have any friends that could help me out as well, please pass the link along to them for me. Thanks again.

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  4. Marcela says:

    Does stir fry add calories or fat to food? Is it the same to simply fry.. I think.
    I´m trying to est lower fat meals.. is it good to me?

    Thanks a lot
    Marce

    • tobyamidor says:

      Hi Marcela,
      The idea of a stir-fry is to cook up the food using minimal oil (about 1-2 teaspoons). As long as you don't pour on the oil, the majority of the calories are coming from healthy veggies and lean protein. Another thing to moderate is how much soy sauce and other sauces you add— some contain high amounts of salt, sugar or fat– so just use them in moderation.

      • Thi says:

        I am an industrial design student, working on a project and need to do research on stir frying. Would you be willing to answer a survey about stir frying for me? It would greatly help me in my design process. If so, please click on this link.
        https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/93X9TQR

        Thank-you so very much for you participation. If you have any friends that could help me out as well, please pass the link along to them for me. Thanks again.

  5. feastonthecheap says:

    My FAVORITE stir-fry is this Orange-Chili Beef with Broccoli and Spring Onions. It's ready in a flash and so full of flavor. I usually serve it over rice noodles…

    • Thi says:

      I am an industrial design student, working on a project and need to do research on stir frying. Would you be willing to answer a survey about stir frying for me? It would greatly help me in my design process. If so, please click on this link.
      https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/93X9TQR

      Thank-you so very much for you participation. If you have any friends that could help me out as well, please pass the link along to them for me. Thanks again.

  6. Tyrone Biggums says:

    My issue is that the sauces/marinades tend to be very high in sodium. I've looked in stores for healthy ones but they are hard to find.

    • Amanda says:

      Try making your own! Soy sauce is notoriously very high in sodium, so I make my own sauces or add seasonings that give flavor without adding excessive sodium. Try your own using garlic, peppers, different spices such as thyme, basil, chili powder, or look in the international foods section for different things. I have seen a few low-sodium options at my grocery store. Molasses or brown sugar (only a tbsp or two) are also good options for flavor. My personal favorite is garlic, brown sugar and a few teaspoons of chili powder.

  7. Karen says:

    No need to use a sauce at all. Plenty moist from the protein & veggies, just use your favorite seasoning.

  8. Heide says:

    Why is no-one ever questioning as of how the food was grown, how much of chemicals were used,
    steroids added to "beef" up, additives to make it greener, hold longer and so on!!! I think that is the
    cause and problem of people struggeling with weight…all of the above happened in the 1970's, be-
    fore that Americans were lean people, home grown foods, canning, baking, etc……It is not enjoyable
    trying to think of calories every bite you take….frightening….

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