"Our lives are not in the lap of the
gods, but in the lap of our cooks."
(Lin Yutang, "The Importance of Living",
on the table.
joys of cooking dinner during the week.
You've finally arrived home, having battled rush
hour traffic to transport the children to and from
various sports and music classes. You're tense and
exhausted, but instead of resting, you dash madly
about the kitchen, trying to get dinner
At times like these, eating Chinese food may be the
last thing on your mind (unless this involves
nothing more demanding than driving to the local
take-out for an order of Almond Chicken and Spring
Rolls). When your challenge is to put a meal in
front of the family in twenty minutes, the thought
ginger, mixing sauces, and marinating
meat can seem overwhelming. Speed, not quality, is
what counts at these times.
culinary masterpieces featuring twenty ingredients
aside, it is possible to prepare Chinese dishes on a
tight schedule. The actual act of stir-frying takes
only five to ten minutes - it's preparing the
ingredients that can be so time consuming. Here are
a few tips to help you prepare quick and easy meals
with an Oriental flavor:
Ginger is one of the key ingredients in Chinese
ginger takes time, but you can
peel it ahead of time and store in the
refrigerator. Place in a jar, cover with sherry,
and seal - as the flavor of the
ginger fades you
have the sherry taste to compensate.
Better yet, why peel
ginger at all? Simply cut off a slice and
stir-fry until aromatic.
Use Pre-seasoned instead of freshly seasoned
I found this tip in Deh-Ta Hsiung's Chinese
Cookery Secrets - just add 2 - 3 pieces of
to heated oil, and cook until the ginger rises to
the surface and turns brown. Cool the oil and
store. The oil can be reused several times.
Use canned chicken
broth instead of homemade chicken stock
There is nothing like homemade stock, but chicken
broth works fine in a pinch, as in this recipe for
Egg Drop or Egg Flower Soup. Calorie
Counting tip: substitute chicken broth where water
is called for in stir-fries to add flavor while
reducing the amount of cooking oil. (Vegetarians
can add soaking liquid from vegetables such as
Prepare the meat
ahead of time
Cutting meat is not something you want to do while
rushed or distracted, particularly in stir-fry
dishes, when it's important that the pieces of
meat are a uniform size. Just cut the meat, cover
with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator
until you come home from work.
Cook with instant
noodles, such as Ramen
They're quick and easy to prepare - after boiling,
if you like you can discard the flavor packet and
stir-fry them with a sauce.
about 30 minutes ahead of time
This gives them plenty of time to drain before
A good option if you don't have time for slicing
and dicing. Many frozen food manufacturers carry
"Oriental" or "Stir-fry" Blends, containing an
assortment of Asian vegetables. Just toss them in
the heated wok with oil and stir-fry.
option is to use canned Chinese vegetables, such
as water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Bamboo
shoots and mushrooms make a nice combination
(they're even featured in a dish called "Fried Two
Winters"), while water chestnuts go well with snow
peas. Just rinse in warm water to remove any
Boil and bag it
boiled bamboo shoots in the refrigerator section
at the Asian market - all you need to do is soak
them in hot water to remove any salinity before
Use favorite sauce
combinations in more than one recipe.
That way, you won't be
experimenting with new ingredients or different
combinations of familiar ingredients every time
you cook dinner. One of my favorite stir-fry
sauces for vegetables is something I came up with
while trying to spice up a bean curd dish (the
"secret formula" is 2 tablespoons dark
1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons
sherry, and 1 teaspoon sugar).
Try a ready made
stir-fry sauce or marinade
Many local supermarkets carry a selection of
stir-fry sauces and marinades. Most can be used
with meat, seafood, or vegetables.
A Busy Cook's Mecca
- the Asian market
The convenience section of most Asian markets
has exploded in recent years. You'll find a wide
assortment of sauces, marinades, dry seasonings,
curry mixes and soup bases, all designed to help
you create your favorite dishes on busy
weeknights. For example, Asian Home Gourmet has a
dry chili stir-fry for Kung Pao Chicken - just add
chicken, nuts and sherry. Meanwhile, McCormick
has a seasoning packet for deep-fried pork and
Mama Sita has a Calderata seasoning packet will
add a taste of the Philippines to soups or stews.
But go find out for yourself!
When all else
fails, simplify the recipe
ginger doesn't mean you can't
serve sliced pork with
ginger instead. Also, on
nights like these it pays to stick to ingredients
that will pass muster with family members - this
is not the time to discover that your son thinks
sesame seeds are gross, or that your husband
shares the widely-held view that cilantro tastes
For best results, stick with the tried and true.
As a regular poster on my forum recently
pointed out, just because a recipe calls for
shredded pork with