Somewhere in the repertoire of every healthy-minded cook is a stir-fry. You chop up a bunch of veggies, cook them quickly at high heat, add meat or tofu, maybe a flavorful sauce or a sprinkle of chopped cashews or peanuts. Easy, healthy, and versatile. And usually Asian in flavor profile.
But one day, I got to wondering: Why not try an unexpected flavor slant, such as Italian, southern French, Greek or Mexican? The plug-and-play skeleton of a typical stir-fry is just begging to be mixed up a bit. I love a cooking blueprint that grants me not just one dinner, but plenty of possibilities. With stir-fries being so healthy — due to their reliance on oodles of veggies — it's a perfect model to expand beyond the tasty Asian box we have it in.
So let's start with a few stir-fry tips. First, always prep all your ingredients in advance and have everything right there at the stovetop before you begin. Nowhere is mise en place more important than with a stir-fry (also true for grilled pizza, but that's a column for another day).
Second, use high heat. You want to sear the ingredients, and that requires lots of heat. If you are using firmer vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, and you prefer them softer than a quick roll in the wok will make them, either blanch them briefly as part of your prep, or use a quick saute-steam method (as used in the recipe here).
Third, don't crowd your wok (or frying pan), which will lower the temperature and result in a steamed stir-fry (not a good thing). If you don't have a sufficiently large wok, cook the protein in a separate frying pan (I explain how below) to get a nice sear, then add to the vegetable skillet at the last minute, along with the sauce. Finally, top the entire thing with something crunchy, such as a few chopped almonds. You won't even need rice.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/2 pound small broccoli florets
2 1/2-pound head cauliflower, trimmed, cored and cut into small florets (about 1 1/2 pounds florets)
1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth or stock (or water)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup marinara sauce, warmed
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)
Season the chicken strips with salt and pepper, then set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the broccoli until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Working in batches, repeat this step with the cauliflower, adding the chopped bits to the broccoli. Have all remaining ingredients prepped.
In a medium nonstick skillet over medium, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil. At the same time, in a large wok over high, heat the remaining oil.
In the skillet, brown the chicken an all sides until golden, 6 to 8 minutes, depending on how thick the strips are.
Meanwhile, add the broccoli, cauliflower and onion to the wok. Cook, stirring constantly and spreading the vegetables up the sides of the wok, until the vegetables start to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, then cover and let steam for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the cover and let the remaining broth evaporate. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Continue to cook another minute, stirring.
Add the cooked chicken and Parmesan cheese, stir, then remove from heat. Serve with pine nuts sprinkled on top, if desired, and the marinara either drizzled over the top or served on the side.
Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories; 80 calories from fat (28 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 90 mg cholesterol; 610 mg sodium; 19 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 33 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, "Supermarket Healthy." http://www.melissadarabian.net
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Banner image: This Feb. 25, 2016 photo shows a serving of Italian stir-fry with seared chicken breast and marinara in Concord, N.H. Finely chopped broccoli and cauliflower stand in for the rice in this vegetable-forward version of the classic Asian dish. (AP Photo/J.M. Hirsch)