"Today we're going to make a wonderful vegetable stir-fry" says David Gauvin, longtime chef at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester. As chefs in the health care sector, he and Pete McGahey, executive chef at Beverly Hospital, are focused on cooking healthy, balanced meals without sacrificing on flavor.
Stir frying is a method of cooking which involves continuously stirring or tossing ingredients in a large pan or wok over a high heat. It is thought to have originated in China, although it is used in a number of Asian cuisines. In "The Complete Asian Cookbook," Charmaine Soloman explains that the method evolved to conserve fuel, because the cooking time is very short. It is also a healthy way to cook, since only a small amount of oil is used; this and the fact that it is quick and easy to prepare have made it increasingly popular in the West.
Gauvin and McGahey stress the importance of prepping all the ingredients beforehand; this is in order to avoid a delay once you start cooking, as a quick cooking time is crucial to ensuring crisp vegetables. For the same reason, Gauvin explains that "all of these ingredients have to be cut very thinly or in very small pieces".
The order in which the vegetables are cooked is also important. "Most people will just pile them all in at once, and that's where they make their mistake" says McGahey. "You can use pretty much any vegetable you want; as long as you cook them in the right order, you'll be all set. If you do it the wrong way, it'll come out a little bit mushy." He suggests starting with the hardest vegetables first and later adding the ones that will cook more quickly.
Instead of meat, Gauvin and McGahey use tofu in this stir-fry. Tofu is full of vegetable protein and "it also takes on a lot of the flavors that you are already cooking with" says Gauvin. He removes some of the moisture with a paper towel and then slices the tofu into cubes.
Having prepped all the vegetables and seasonings beforehand, they heat some oil in a saute pan, demonstrating that you don't have to have a wok to get a good result; more important is the high heat. First, they roll the tofu cubes in cornstarch and fry them until golden, then remove the tofu from the pan and put it to one side.
To the hot pan, they first add the eggplant, carrot and yellow squash and stir-fry for a minute or two. Next are the pea pods, shredded cabbage and shitake mushrooms. They then add the aromatics, ginger and scallions, and put the tofu back in the pan before building the sauce with some honey, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Finally, they add some soba noodles, which they have cooked and drained ahead of time.
"You know what I like most about this is that the vegetables themselves are not overcooked," says Gauvin as he takes a bite. "You can still see the bright, vibrant colors."
McGahey is pleased with what he considers to be a well-balanced dish; "it's all vegetables, there's no meat in there, but there's plenty of protein from the tofu. We get everything we need, it's a well-balanced plate and it's the correct portion. What else could you really want?"
1/2 pound soba noodles
1/2 pound tofu (firm)
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 small summer squash, julienned
1 small eggplant, julienned
1/4 cabbage, shredded
1 cup peapods, cleaned
2 scallions, chopped
1 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced, stem removed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1. Boil water for soba noodles. When ready, boil for 5 minutes and set aside.
2. Cut and prep vegetables while water is boiling.
2. Pat tofu with paper towels to remove excess liquid. Cut tofu into small squares, about 1/2 inch.
3. Coat tofu in cornstarch. Heat oil in pan, sauté© the cubes until browning. Remove and set aside.
4. Add vegetables to hot pan (hard vegetables first). Add in order, carrots, summer squash, eggplant, peapods, cabbage, mushrooms, ginger and scallions. Return tofu to pan.
5. Add liquid ingredients (vinegar and soy sauce). Stir and mix before adding hot, drained noodles.
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Recipe courtesy of chefs Pete McGahey of Beverly Hospital and David Gauvin of Addison Gilbert Hospital, 2012.