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For the love of broccoli: Stir-fry dish satisfies

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I've always enjoyed eating broccoli. One of my favorite ways to prepare the green cruciferous vegetable is to steam it until it's still a little crisp, yet tender enough for a fork to pierce into the stem. A drizzle of olive oil, a squirt of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and the broccoli can miraculously satisfy my taste buds just as powerfully as a chunk of creamy, rich dark chocolate melting on my tongue.

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You may find my lust for broccoli hard to believe, especially if a bowl of the light green stalks topped with clusters of purple-tinged dark green florets on your family's meal table elicits a chorus of groans and grimaces.

Yes, broccoli can easily be overcooked, creating a dark, limp and very smelly vegetable. How could anyone hold back a gag? But when perfectly cooked, it can be addictive.

There are several good reasons to eat broccoli. So, to make it most appealing, don't overcook the broccoli. To get the most of the beneficial vitamins, don't overcook the broccoli.

Why eat broccoli? Most importantly, there are many health benefits. Broccoli is a great source of calcium, potassium, folate and fiber. It also contains plant compounds called phytonutrients that may help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Broccoli is a powerhouse of the antioxidants vitamins A and C that protect your body's cells from damage.

If you are calorie-conscious, one cup of broccoli contains only 44 calories.

Stir-frying broccoli is another quick way to cook the vegetable. To prepare broccoli, the thick stalks must be cut off. No need to discard the broccoli stalks, though. Peel them and slice them diagonally. Eat them raw like you would a carrot. The raw stalks are great with dips. And, unlike the florets, they won't leave little green bits in your teeth. You know, those bits that people notice but never mention.

An Asian-inspired sauce goes together in minutes. If you are satisfied with just enough of the brown sauce to glaze the stir-fried broccoli, you'll be able to store half of it in a sealed jar or bottle in the refrigerator to use in your next stir-fry meal.

Fresh garlic and ginger add subtle fresh and bright fragrance as well as flavor.

As with any stir-fry dish, it is imperative that you have all ingredients prepared before the cooking begins. The whole process takes just minutes.

After you've made one batch of Stir-Fried Broccoli in Ginger-Garlic Sauce, you'll be able to adjust the sweet and salty flavors of soy sauce and sugar or honey to make it suit your own taste.

Serve Stir-Fried Broccoli in Ginger-Garlic Sauce as a side to any meat. I like it best served over brown jasmine rice.

Now, if you can persuade your broccoli-challenged family to taste Stir-Fried Broccoli in Ginger-Garlic Sauce, you'll win their taste buds. They'll be begging for more.

But remember, don't overcook the broccoli.

Stir-Fried Broccoli in Ginger-Garlic Sauce

1 1/2 pounds broccoli

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth

1/3 cup sherry

3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons canola, peanut or safflower oil

4 chubby cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh gingerroot

4 green onions, thinly sliced, for serving

1 to 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, for serving

Wash and trim broccoli. Cut into florets. Set aside.

In a bowl, whisk together soy sauce, broth, sherry, brown sugar or honey, sesame oil and black pepper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the liquid mixture with the cornstarch. Stir until cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside.

Place wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. When wok is hot, add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Carefully add prepared broccoli. Stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until broccoli begins to brown. Reduce heat to medium. Add liquid mixture. Add gingerroot. Cook for just 1 or 2 more minutes, until broccoli is firm, but can be pierced with a fork. Push broccoli to the sides of the wok or skillet. Pour cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the center of the wok or skillet. Stir well. Cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens.

Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Tips from the cook

--I find that half of the sauce is just enough to coat the broccoli with a little extra that seeps down into the bottom of the serving bowl. This means that as soon as I mix the sauce, I pour half of it into a jar and refrigerate it for another time. The remaining half gets thickened with just 1 tablespoon cornstarch in ¼ cup of the liquid mixture. If you like a generous amount of sauce with the broccoli, use it all.

--Most often, I don't even thicken the sauce with cornstarch. I like to eat the Stir-Fried Broccoli in Ginger-Garlic Sauce over brown jasmine rice. The rice soaks up the liquid.

--Sherry can be purchased in small bottles. You'll discover it is the "secret ingredient" that can add wonderful flavor to sauces, soups and any stir-fry dish. I always add a tablespoon or two to wild rice soup. If you prefer not to use alcohol in your cooking, replace the amount of sherry with more broth or some orange juice. The flavor of the sauce won't be quite the same, though.

--Add a pinch or two of red pepper flakes to add smoky heat to this dish. Or offer the flakes at the table for diners to sprinkle on as they please.

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