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Back to the table: A sweet, tangy stir-fry is easy on the budget and brings everyone together

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

All across the country, people are at a transition point in their dinnertime habits. We've finished summer's easygoing days, when the evening meal might mean grilled burgers and hot dogs or a quick bite out before a movie or maybe the children heading off in different directions for dinner at friends' homes. It sometimes seemed as if the family dinner table was a forgotten piece of furniture.

Now vacations are over, school is back in session, and the sun is setting earlier day by day. It's the right time to gather around that table again for a home-cooked meal.

Sharing food you cook for yourself and your loved ones is a remarkably effective way to build closeness. Good meals shared can make everyone happier and more relaxed, leading to easier conversations and closer bonds. If you're a parent, the dinner table offers an especially good opportunity to catch up on your kids' activities -- and make sure they're doing their homework!

But how can you get back into the habit of cooking nightly meals? The easiest way is to focus on recipes that provide big flavor and great satisfaction with minimal effort. And that often leads me to stir-frying.

This Asian cooking technique evolved long ago as a way to cook food quickly without using too much precious fuel. By cutting up your ingredients into uniform, small pieces and stirring them together quickly in a large pan over high heat, a delicious one-dish meal can be cooked in minutes.

Flavor is quickly added through liquid seasonings that can also play the role of marinade for whatever protein is featured; and a touch of cornstarch helps to bind that sauce when heated, beautifully coating all the stir-fried ingredients. The only other dish you need to make the meal complete is some steamed rice that you start cooking, following package instructions, before you start preparing the main dish.

In addition to being quick and easy to prepare, and delicious, the following recipe for a sweet-and-tangy pork-and-vegetable stir-fry has yet three more aspects to its appeal. First, it features ingredients you may well already have in your pantry or refrigerator, or certainly ones you can find easily in your local supermarket. Even better, it's surprisingly economical, with the entire ingredient list probably costing less than you'd spend to feed four people in a fast-food restaurant. And finally, you don't even need a wok to make it; a large frying pan works fine.

Feel free to substitute boneless, skinless chicken for the pork, or add other vegetables you like. Eventually, you can start inventing your own stir-fries, coming up with new ways every evening to lure everyone back to the table.


Serves 4 to 6

12 ounces (375 g) well-trimmed center-cut boneless pork chops, about 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick

1 green bell pepper, halved, stemmed, and seeded

1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled

1 medium carrot, trimmed and peeled

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

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1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 1/2 tablespoons Asian-style toasted sesame oil

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Steamed white rice, for serving

2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, for garnish

With a sharp knife, cut the pork chops into 1/2-inch (12-mm) dice. Set the meat aside in a medium mixing bowl. Cut the bell pepper, onion and carrot into 1/4-inch (6-mm) dice, combining them in a separate bowl.

Pour the soy sauce into a small mixing bowl. Add the cornstarch and stir with a fork until the cornstarch has dissolved completely. Stir in the garlic, sesame oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes and brown sugar. Add the seasonings mixture to the bowl of diced pork and toss well. Set aside at room temperature to marinate for about 15 minutes. Wash your hands thoroughly.

Heat the peanut oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the pork mixture and stir-fry with a long-handled spoon or spatula, keeping the pork cubes moving continuously around the pan, until they have turned lightly golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add all the diced vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Continue stir-frying over high heat until the pork is cooked through and nicely browned and the vegetables are tender-crisp, about 2 minutes longer.

Spoon the steamed rice into individual serving bowls or onto serving plates. Spoon the stir-fried pork and vegetables on top of the rice. Garnish with scallions and serve immediately.



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