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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wok this way!

Let me just cut to the chase -- no matter how good it tastes and no matter how we try to justify it, most take-out is just horrible for us. It's fried, greasy, and loaded with sugar, salt and often MSG. These will sabotage your diet in a heartbeat -- and may actually sabotage your heartbeat if you eat too much!

One of my goals is to de-grease some of our favorites so they fit into our svelte lifestyles. You may have already tried the homemade pizza (several of you have commented that it's better than delivery!) and the Asian-inspired fare from A Month of Main Courses. This is a major step in the right direction, and though it takes a bit more time than the drive-through, your body will thank you! And never fear, I'm working on more! Shrimp Pad Thai, General Tso's Chicken, Filipino Chicken Adobo, Mongolian Beef and many others are coming your way. I'm going for authenticity, and that takes a bit of time -- especially when it means cutting the fat and sugar! So for now, let's talk about one of my favorite cooking methods -- stir-frying in a wok.

In order to achieve authenticity (because I haven't been to many of these countries!), I spend a lot of time researching ingredients, recipes and cooking methods. One thing I've noticed across the board is the unabashed use of oil and sugar. Sure, the "authentic" way would be to deep fry, but I'm talking about authentic flavors, not necessarily authentic artery clogging. Each type of cuisine has unique spices and flavor profiles from its country of origin. Mix and match according to your tastes and you'll have a unique and exciting meal that tantalizes your taste buds -- without all the fat!

When I'm pressed for time, I simply take whatever lean protein and veggie I have on hand and choose from my vast selection of spices and flavors to use in the wok. This photo shows a few of my favorites. Clockwise from bottom left, we have crushed red pepper, five spice powder, sesame oil (a couple drops go a LONG way!), rice vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, Sriracha hot chili sauce, chili garlic sauce, wasabi powder and black sesame seeds. There's a reason most of these bottles are half empty -- I use them a lot! I also use a lot of grated fresh ginger, minced garlic and light coconut milk, but they didn't show up for their photo opp.

In order to keep things svelte, I use just a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of the wok, and only at the beginning of cooking. If you don't have a wok, a skillet with high sides will do just fine! If the wok gets dry or ingredients start to stick as you add them, simply hit it with your oil mister!

Sometimes I make a marinade or sauce with these ingredients and sometimes I add them as I go. Whatever you choose, simply add ingredients to the wok once the oil starts to smoke and in the order of cooking time (longest first -- chicken, for example). Stir like crazy until the protein is cooked through and veggies are crisp-tender. If you're using a whole grain, like rice or the noodles shown in this Shrimp Pad Thai, pre-boil them until they're al dente and drain them before stir-frying. Since stir-frying must be done very quickly to avoid burning, very small pieces that can handle short cooking time are best. You wouldn't be able to effectively stir-fry a whole chicken breast, but cut into small pieces, it will cook rather quickly! My favorite protein to stir-fry is shrimp, because it cooks in 3 minutes. Also, it is imperative that you have everything pre-cut, pre-mixed and ready to go beside your wok. Chefs call this preparation "mise en place," and I do it before I cook anything. But in this instance, because you're working so quickly, you won't have time to do anything but "wok" once your first item goes in!

Here's an example of how I do it. Heat oil on high until it just starts to pop. I add the noodles or rice (if using) with a couple tablespoons of sauce first. Stir quickly until sauce is incorporated. Push it to the side of the wok. Add shrimp. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it's just about done. Add veggies, herbs and a bit more sauce, mixing everything together and stirring like crazy for about a minute. Plate and garnish with sesame seeds or chopped herbs. Voila, you have dinner!

I encourage you to use your imagination with your flavors -- anything goes! Just watch the oil and avoid the sugar (instead, try fruit like oranges and pineapple. They work beautifully in the wok and give your food that amazing sweet flavor!). Or simply try my recipes and have dinner on the table in minutes! Enjoy!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. A portion of cookbook sales through the end of February will be donated to the relief efforts in Haiti.

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