Saturday, September 12, 2009

Courgettes with noodles

As Joni Mitchell so rightly said, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Fortunately, a big yellow taxi has not taken away my old (wo)man, but I am mourning my cookery books. After smugly preening myself on my independence, I realise that I want them, I need them and I may even love them. (Sorry Elvis.) Unfortunately my books are in a box somewhere in San Fernando, while I am in a kitchen in Edinburgh where my inspiration is running low. I have even got to the point of checking FedEx rates for sending 30kg boxes across Europe.

However, every cloud has a silver lining, and at least I have had time to perfect my vegetable stir-fries. I have worked out a couple of things over the summer (with the help of regular dining at the Wing Sing). Tonight and for one night only I share these gems with you my little darlings. (I did say the lack of cookery books was getting to me.) So here are my three rules of vegetable stir-fries:
  1. Sometimes less is more.
  2. The secret is in the chopping.
  3. High flame for short time.
Stir-fries are often ruined by throwing together an ill-considered collection of vegetables which share just one thing in common: they were at the bottom of the fridge when you were deciding what to cook and will probably be thrown away if they don't get eaten tonight. The vegetables themselves are unlikely to achieve a harmonious combination. (Broccoli and beansprouts, anyone? Carrots and cauliflower?) And they will almost certainly take different lengths of time to cook, so unless you are careful you will have an unappetising mixture of randomly assorted overcooked and undercooked vegetables in your wok.

The other sure way of ruining a stir-fry is by not chopping the ingredients properly. There is a bit of a misconception that Chinese cooking involves chopping everything very finely. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the key when stir-frying is to cut the ingredients small enough that they will cook quickly over a high heat, while keeping them large enough that they still have some bite and texture left at the end. If you cut the ingredients too small they will give out too much liquid and will start to stew rather than fry.

And the third way of ruining a stir-fry is by cooking it for too long. (Unfortunately, if you've got the wrong mix of ingredients or cut them to the wrong size, then you will probably end up having to do just this to avoid having raw ingredients.) If you've got the right mix of ingredients and have cut them to the right size (and haven't overloaded your wok) then you should be able to stir-fry them in a couple of minutes.

With all this in mind, here is my recipe for a very simple stir-fry involving just one main ingredient.

4 medium-sized courgettes
6 spring onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 large piece of ginger
sunflower oil for frying
4 tablespoons of oyster sauce
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
300g of 'straight to wok' noodles

  1. Wash the courgettes and cut the ends off. Top and tail the spring onions and cut into 1/2 cm sections. Peel and finely chop the garlic and onion. Take the noodles out of their packet and separate them out a little so that they don't form a block.
  2. Cut the courgettes into 3 sections (about 2 inches in length), then cut each section lengthwise into slices about the width of a pencil, and cut each slice into batons (again, the width of a pencil).
  3. Heat a little vegetable oil (sunflower, peanut whatever) in the wok, and when it is hot chuck in the garlic and ginger, stir for a few seconds, and add the courgettes and the spring onion. Cook over a high flame for about two minutes, stirring and tossing the contents from the wok from time to time. (The courgettes should still be a bit crunchy. If you're worried and think they need more cooking then they probably don't!)
  4. Add the noodles to the wok and continue to cook for another 20-30 seconds until the noodles have heated through.
  5. Drizzle the oyster sauce and sesame oil over the contents of the wok and serve.
As they say in China: "Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon."

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