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When Is a Wok Better Than a Skillet?

Stir-frying, which originated in China, is one of the best techniques for producing dinner in a matter of minutes. The following stir-fry dishes are nutritious, colorful, appealing and often less pricey than a conventional meal of meat, vegetables and potatoes.

The trick for really quick cooking is to have the ingredients--vegetables and meat--all cut to size and ready to go so that when you come home at the end of a day, you can go right to the stove. You can get many of the ingredients ready over the weekend; most fresh vegetables will hold in the refrigerator for five days, and the meat or seafood can be stored in the freezer.

If rice, pasta or potatoes are destined for your dish, they must be cooked in advance and well chilled for stir-fry success. This is easy enough to do: Pasta and rice freeze well, and cooked potatoes hold for several days in the refrigerator.

A wok is ideal for stir-frying; as the food is cooked, it’s pushed up to the sides of the wok while the remaining food is cooked on the bottom. A wok uses less oil than a conventional large skillet, and its high, sloping sides contain most of the splatter. However, I find that a 12-inch non-stick skillet makes a very good substitute. (A non-stick skillet should never be heated empty; add the oil to the skillet and then heat to the desired temperature.)

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Before you start stir-frying, place ingredients and serving dish by the stove. The cooking is very quick and requires attentive stirring.

The following recipes are one-pot stir-fries; a salad is the only other dish you might consider serving.

FOR QUICK WEEKDAY STIR-FRIES

* Cut up vegetables and meat on the weekend or the night before, keeping them refrigerated, separately wrapped in plastic wrap.

* For last-minute stir-fries, there’s always a salad bar in some nearby market to help you out with prepared fresh ingredients. Don’t forget frozen vegetables; just thaw and drain them before stir-frying.

* Measure out all the other ingredients in advance so there’s no delay once the stir-frying begins.

* Place all the ingredients in readiness by the stove before you start stir-frying.

* Always let the oil get very hot before adding any ingredients, and stir-fry over high heat.

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* Pay close attention to the sequence of stir-frying. When ingredients such as rice, ravioli and sausage are browned, they are stir-fried first and set aside.

* Avoid overcooking in stir-fries. Use a wooden spoon and keep the food moving constantly until completely cooked. If using a wok, push the cooked food up on the sides until the rest is completely cooked.

This recipe is easily doubled if you have a large enough wok or skillet. The mincing is best done in the food processor. A salad of thinly sliced cucumbers and green onions, marinated in a sweetened rice vinegar dressing, is a refreshing partner with this dish.

STIR-FRIED RICE WITH

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CHICKEN, VEGETABLES,

SESAME OIL AND

HOISIN SAUCE

1 large whole chicken breast, skinned, boned and trimmed of all fat, about 8 ounces total meat, semi-frozen, then cut into 1/2-inch chunks

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1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon each: soy sauce, water

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

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2 teaspoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons peanut oil

2 cups cooked rice, chilled

Salt

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5 large green onions, about 3 ounces total, thinly sliced

Salt

2 medium carrots, about 5 ounces total, minced

2 cups individual tiny broccoli florets (reserve stems for another use)

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8 large mushrooms, about 4-1/2 ounces total, trimmed and quartered

1/2 cup chicken stock or broth

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

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Chile oil, optional

Mix chicken breast, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, water, hoisin sauce and sesame oil together in small dish. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in wok or non-stick 12-inch skillet over high heat. When very hot, add rice, 1/4 teaspoon salt and half green onions. Stir-fry over high heat until very hot and firm-textured, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to wok. When hot, add chicken and sauce. Stir-fry until opaque, about 3 minutes. Set aside with rice.

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Heat remaining oil. When hot, add carrots, broccoli and mushrooms and season to taste with salt. Stir-fry until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock or broth. Boil 2 minutes, until vegetables are somewhat tender.

Return reserved rice and chicken to pan. Stir-fry until heated through. Add rice vinegar, sugar and few drops chile oil. Stir well. Adjust seasonings. Garnish with remaining green onions. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 2 main-course servings or 4 side-dish servings.

Toasting the ravioli as a first step gives it a great look and a deliciously chewy texture. For quick cooking, Del Monte chunky pasta-style stewed tomatoes is an excellent product, working well in many types of recipes. Keep it on hand; it tends to be sweet and is improved with a little vinegar or lemon juice. Serve a large salad of mixed greens with croutons, dressed in simple vinaigrette, with the ravioli.

STIR-FRIED TOASTED

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RAVIOLI WITH

TOMATOES AND

FRESH BASIL

1 (9-ounce) package fresh cheese ravioli

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Olive oil

1 large red onion, about 8 ounces, cut into 1/3-inch dice

1 (14-1/2 ounce) can chunky pasta-style stewed tomatoes

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

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3/8 teaspoon salt

Red pepper flakes

1/3 cup julienned fresh basil leaves

Grated imported Parmesan cheese

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Cook ravioli and drain. Toss in little olive oil, cover and chill. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in wok or 12-inch non-stick skillet over high heat. When very hot, add ravioli, separating any that stick together. Let brown before stir-frying. Stir-fry until most are toasted on both sides, about 4 minutes. Set aside.

Add another 1 tablespoon olive oil and onions. Stir-fry until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes with liquid, balsamic vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Boil 2 minutes. Add ravioli. Stir-fry 30 seconds until hot. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add basil leaves. Toss well. Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 2 main-course servings, or 4 side-dish servings.

Here, a tasty mix of ingredients is quickly stir-fried into a Mexican-inspired dish. Serve it in a shallow soup bowl and pass warmed corn tortillas and shredded Cheddar cheese. A jicama salad in orange juice vinaigrette is the perfect salad to accompany the dish. If you have a food processor, use it for the mincing. The sausage can be omitted although it gives the dish a nice smoky edge.

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MEXICAN STIR-FRY

OF SAUSAGE,

BLACK BEANS,

GARBANZOS

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AND VEGETABLES

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 (3-ounce) smoked Polish sausages, cut in 1/3-inch slices, chilled

1 serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded if desired, minced

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2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 medium onions, minced

2 small zucchini, diced 1/3-inch

1 large sweet red pepper, diced 1/3-inch

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Salt

1 (15 1/2-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed, drained

1/2 cup water

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1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground oregano

2 tablespoons catsup

Cilantro leaves

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Shredded longhorn Cheddar cheese

Warm corn tortillas

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in wok or 12-inch non-stick skillet over high heat. When hot, add sliced sausage. Stir-fry until browned, about 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Discard fat.

Add remaining olive oil to wok and heat. Add minced serrano chile, garlic, onions, zucchini, red pepper and l/2 teaspoon salt. Stir-fry until onions are tender, about 2 minutes. Add garbanzo and black beans. Stir-fry until heated through, about 1 minute. Add reserved sausage, water, cumin, oregano and catsup. Stir-fry until hot, about 30 seconds. Adjust salt to taste.

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Serve hot in shallow soup dishes. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Pass shredded cheese and corn tortillas. Makes 4 main-course servings or 8 side-dish servings.


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