How to make a quick stir-fry from your store cupboard

by admin on March 8, 2009 · 14 comments

Stir fry

Making a quick lunch from your larder needn’t be a big deal.  As a food fanatic it’s easy to fall into the trap of over-thinking your next meal, deliberating what to make for so long that eventually you are so hungry you’ll eat anything.  Sometimes it’s good to remember that you are just getting yourself something to eat, grab a few nutritious ingredients and get on with it.

Everybody has (or can plan to have) some combination of these ingredients in stock and use them to knock up a quick lunch. Unlike most stir-fries, this is a true one-pan meal because it doesn’t require you to cook a separate grain (thanks goes to Nigella Lawson for the nifty idea of using a can of drained beans instead of cooking rice or noodles). With the step of boiling water neatly side-stepped, your lunch really can be ready in ten minutes.

This recipe is just a template, a broad list of foods into which you can substitute whatever you have available.  The recipe given is a template from which you can experiment and find your own favourite combination:

Frozen meat substitute

Quorn, seitain, tofu, vegetarian “stir fry strips”, “chicken style pieces”

All of these ingredients are a good source of protein, lower in saturated fat than most meats and can be cooked straight from the freezer.

Canned legumes

Chickpeas (garbanzo), butter beans, red kidney beans, cannellini beans, flageolet beans, borlotti beans, mixed pulses.

Legumes provide fibre, carbohydrate and protein as well as providing a useful vegetarian source of iron. Contributes towards your five a day.

A flavoursome paste

Thai curry pastes, indian curry pastes, sun dried tomato paste, pesto, tapenade

These ingredients can be high in fat but a small amount can provide heaps of flavour.

Fresh green leaves

Baby spinach, kale, rocket, green cabbages, watercress, chard, spring greens
Rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre, counts towards your five a day.

A crunchy, quick cooking vegetable

Bell pepper, courgette (zucchini)
Rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre, counts towards your five a day.

A cooking oil

Olive oil, rapeseed (vegetable) oil

These oils are high in monounsaturated fats, thought to be beneficial for heart health.

Between the beans, green leafy veg and peppers a portion of this stir-fry provides at least two of your five a day.

Instead of the thai flavours in the recipe below, how about making an indian version with chickpeas, garam masala curry paste and spinach, or a more Italian affair with borlotti beans, tapenade and kale?

Other storecupboard customisations on Mostly Eating
A ‘mix and match’ recipe for a wholegrain lunchtime salad
How to make a healthier muffin
Easy ingredients to make your smoothies nutritious and delicious

Recipe for Store cupboard stir-fry

This recipe is intended as a guide only. See the notes in the accompanying post for suggestions for other ingredients. If you are using thai curry paste then adjust the quantities according to how spicy your paste is.

For 2 people

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
A big handful of frozen vegetarian “chicken style” pieces
425g (15oz) can mixed pulses, drained
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 heaped tsp yellow thai curry paste
1 handfuls rocket leaves

Heat half of the oil in a frying pan, adding the frozen “chicken style pieces”

Cooking a medium heat, stirring regularly, until the “chicken style pieces” begin to colour.

Add the pepppers, continue to cook for two minutes.

Add the pulses and continue to cook for two minutes.

Add the thai curry paste, stirring until all of the ingredients are evenly coated in paste.

Stir in the rocket.  Serve immediately.


Wendy March 9, 2009 at 06:47

A worthy reminder, Sophie. I am certainly guilty of making a fuss over too many meals rather than just using what I’ve got to make something quick and nutritious.

Alex March 9, 2009 at 12:17

I know what you mean! Come Wednesday I’m itching to plan next week’s menus… but perhaps I should wing it a little bit more?

Monica Shaw March 9, 2009 at 12:43

I’ve been eating lots of meals like this lately (and actually wrote about them recently in a post on thrown-together meals). I don’t always stick to asian flavors, though.. in fact, I usually go Italian style, using oregano and basil or fresh parsley if I have it. It all depends on whatever veggies and beans I have around.

Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food. March 10, 2009 at 15:42

Yes, that’s true. One can get too much into meal planning when coming up with a dish like this is so easy and spontaneous, and fun, and healthy.
Good reminder. Just to buy a few good ingredients and see what comes out of them.
Gorgeous photo.
As for your comment on my weight loss post this week – you’re onto me. I do tend to be hard on myself. I think I made a long way to let go and be more forgiving and generous with myself, but this old “thing” still comes out, apparently, and you sensed it ;)

healthy ashley March 10, 2009 at 20:16

Stir-fry’s are seriously the BEST dish! You can fit so many odds and ends in there and still have it be nutritious and tasty. Good post!

Hippolyra March 10, 2009 at 22:27

It looks lovely Sophie – and is identical to our supper last night.
I have recently treated myself to a pressure cooker which cooks soaked dried beans in a fraction of the time (and I no longer buy cans), I always keep a mix of cooked beans in the freezer, pour a kettle of boiling water over them and throw in the stirfry.

Elaine March 11, 2009 at 22:55

You’ve provided such a helpful template for stocking the pantry and planning healthy, tasty meals with variety. If I could recall my high school algebra, I’d be able to tell you how many potential meal combinations one could make from these 6 categories and 28 food items. Although I can’t give you the exact equation, I know the result is a big number.
You’ve also inspired me (and given me confidence) to be creative with stews and use the same template idea for combining legumes, grains, veggies, seasonings and condiments.
Thanks, Sophie.
(Gorgeous photo…love the contrast of green, orange and brown. If it was featured on a menu, I’d definitely order it.)

Abs March 12, 2009 at 20:35

Just made this using chick peas, rocket, baby corn and mangetout and that ready-marinated tofu you get in a packet, with thai red curry paste and a splash of light coconut milk. It’s so good that I’m eating my boyfriend’s leftovers (that’ll teach him to gorge at lunchtime).
I’ve always had a fear of stir-fries being boring or time-consuming but this was anything but. I love the idea of putting the pulses in instead of rice or noodles – much more interesting. This article has demystified the stir-fry for me. Thanks!

Christine March 13, 2009 at 12:41

Love your idea of how to make quick stir-fry.
I always use what we’ve got in fridge and make a stir-fry dish on the go. Cook some veggies with a bit of lean meat, seasoning with a traditional Chinese thickening sauce. That’s it. Quite a balanced diet.

Sophie March 13, 2009 at 20:46

Thanks for those lovely tips!!! That stir fry looks so appetizing!! Yum Yum :)!!!

Ashley March 20, 2009 at 10:38

Looks delicious!! Thanks for sharing – wish we could find these ingredients in our neck of the woods (deep in the Le Marche, Italy countryside)

martin December 7, 2010 at 13:34

This might be a daft question but do you de-frost the frozen ‘chicken pieces’ before throwing them in the wok? Thanks

Sophie December 7, 2010 at 21:06

Martin, I usually use quorn chicken style pieces and cook them from frozen.
If I know well in advance I’m going to make something like this I might get the pieces out of the freezer early and let them defrost a bit.

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