How to whip up a healthy stir-fry

We do stir-fry practically every day. That is often how we produce a green vegetable dish for our meals. It is a side dish, an afterthought.

And yet I have Western friends who have a weekly stir-fry for dinner. They mix and match whatever they want to turn out a delicious dish, often the main.

And they do it because stir-frying is truly a healthy cooking method.

This ancient Chinese method of cooking bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables quickly on high heat is so popular that it has spread to the West.

It uses little oil, requires only minutes of cooking and loses few nutrients if you sit down to eat it immediately after cooking.

The oil you use has to be able to withstand high heat, which is why the Chinese have long used peanut oil, as it can reach high temperatures without smoking excessively.

You can also use soya bean and safflower oils. And add olive oil at the end to enrich the dish. I sometimes also add a few shavings of cheese to the dish.

A stir-fry often takes less than five minutes, though preparation takes longer as everything has to be cut into uniform sizes so that they can all be cooked at the same time.

The quick cooking preserves nutrients and the sparing use of meat creates dishes that are relatively low in cholesterol.

In fact, a stir-fry does not have to include meat - vegetarians rely on soya bean products, while I like mixed greens in mine, such as two leafy vegetables, green beans and baby peas, for a burst of sweetness.

There is an order for ingredients to be added to the pan: the meat and harder vegetables go in first, then the softer vegetables and seafood, if any, which take less time to cook.

I like the wok for stir-frying. Its rounded bottom allows you to toss the vegetables or meat, quickly cooking it.

And if you add a bit of liquid - water, stock or wine - to the pan, steam arises, hastening the cooking process and moistening everything.

There are time-tested combos for stir-fries. The favourite must be chap chye, that melange of cabbage and soya bean products, or a mixed stir-fry, a colourful choice of white cauliflower, orange carrots and green broccoli fried with nuts, often cashews.

Below is a recipe for yet another traditional match: green beans, topped with a favourite condiment of black olive vegetable, just to give a shot of saltiness to the dish.

I also add minced meat - pork or chicken - to give more body to the dish and use not only beans, but also asparagus and sugar snaps, again for sweetness.

For a successful stir-fry, you need to pre-heat the wok over high heat before adding oil.

And, of course, the oil must be able to withstand high temperatures. This allows the vegetables to be cooked crisply and not become sodden at the end.

Be careful not to overcook the vegetables. Remember that cooking goes on even after you have turned off the heat, so you should turn it off just before the vegetables look ready.

You need to flavour the oil by adding garlic, ginger or onions, before adding the other ingredients. And you do not need lard to stir-fry, unlike the old days. A good vegetable oil imparts just as much flavour.

Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.



1 bundle Thai asparagus, trim stems at the bottom, then halve

2 cups green beans, topped and tailed, cut diagonally into half

2 cups sugar snaps, topped and tailed, cut diagonally into half

1 tbsp peanut oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

150g minced pork or chicken

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice wine

2 tbsps black olive vegetable

A pinch of salt and pepper


Cut vegetables into uniform lengths.

Heat oil in a wok till hot. Add chopped garlic to the oil, then the minced meat. Season with fish sauce and pepper, stir in black olive vegetable.

Remove from wok and set aside.

Heat up wok again and fry the beans, sugar snaps, asparagus stems and asparagus tips.

Add rice wine and a pinch of salt.

Place mixed beans and asparagus on a plate; top with minced meat mixture, garnish with sliced red chilli and serve with hot rice.


This article was first published on September 6, 2016.
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