Happy Chinese New Year! The Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Horse begins Friday. The event will be celebrated not just in China but also all over the globe. We’ll certainly observe it with gala dinners in my Asian-inspired restaurants: Chinois on Main in Santa Monica, Calif., WP24 in downtown Los Angeles, Five Sixty in Dallas and The Source in Washington, D.C.
Regardless of the new year’s menus each of my head chefs is planning, you can be certain that some form or other of one dish will be included: stir-fried vegetables. They’re a natural for any Chinese meal, so fresh, colorful, crispy-tender and delicious.
Like so many Chinese New Year dishes, vegetable stir-fries are also believed to bring good fortune. Some might include, for example, the lengthy, slender Chinese long beans, symbolizing long life; or bean sprouts, for abundance; or bamboo shoots, promising fresh starts. Other cooks aim to have 10 kinds of vegetables in their stir-fries because the Chinese word for “10,” shi, also means “abundance.”
I’m all for the idea that eating vegetable stir-fries can improve life, but that doesn’t mean to suggest you go on a marathon shopping trip for a cornucopia of produce or to search for special ethnic ingredients. More simply, I believe that anytime you stir-fry and eat any fresh vegetables, the great nutrients they provide can’t help but benefit your health. And it’s so quick and easy to do, whether you stir-fry one vegetable, or three, or 10.
However many you cook, the keys to success are simple. First, choose the best in-season produce you can find at your local farmers market or well-stocked food store. Next, before any cooking begins, prep all the vegetables, cutting up each one into pieces of uniform size that will cook evenly during the quick stir-frying process.
Start cooking by heating the oil in a wok or another large, wide, fairly shallow pan in which you can stir the vegetables easily. Add aromatics: ginger, garlic and red-pepper flakes in the recipe I share here. Once they’re fragrant, start cooking the vegetables, beginning with hardier ones that take longer to cook and finishing with more delicate ones that cook more quickly. Finally, add a little broth, soy sauce and cornstarch to give the vegetables a glossy, flavorful finish. The result is a perfectly cooked medley, all vibrantly colored and tender-crisp.
Feel free to add or swap out other vegetables, depending on what’s best in the market and what you prefer. Add stir-fried vegetables to your regular recipe rotation, whether as a side dish or an occasional vegetarian main dish (including tofu slices at the end, if you like), and you’ll increase your likelihood of good fortune throughout the coming year.
STIR-FRIED CHINESE VEGETABLES
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1/2 medium red onion, cut into 4 wedges, layers separated
2 heads organic baby bok choy, trimmed, cut lengthwise into quarters
1/4 pound organic Chinese broccoli, stems and leaves separated and cut into 1-inch pieces, or an equal amount of broccoli rabe
1/4 pound organic Chinese long beans or regular green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
6 scallions, trimmed, 5 cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces, 1 thinly sliced and reserved separately
1/4 head Napa cabbage, leaves cut crosswise into strips 1 inch wide
2/3 cup organic chicken broth, vegetable broth or water, heated
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
Heat a large wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot enough to flow freely and begins to shimmer, add the ginger, garlic and red-pepper flakes, and stir-fry just until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Scoop out the aromatics and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the wok. When it is hot, add the onion pieces and stir-fry until they turn glossy and bright, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the bok choy and the Chinese broccoli. Stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Add the long beans and the 1-inch scallion pieces. Continue stir-frying until they are bright green and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Add the Napa cabbage, along with about 1/3 cup of the hot broth or water and the reserved aromatics. Continue stir-frying until the vegetables are all tender-crisp, about 2 minutes longer.
Add the remaining broth or water, and soy sauce; briefly stir the cornstarch mixture and drizzle it in. Continue stir-frying until the vegetables all look lightly glazed with sauce, about 1 minute longer.
Transfer the stir-fried vegetables to a heated serving dish. Garnish with the sliced scallions and sesame seeds, and serve immediately.