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Stir-frying is a classic Chinese cooking method that follows one simple principle: food is cooked over high heat and constantly remains in motion. Unlike traditional western methods of cooking, the key to making a great stir-fry is all in the preparation.

What You'll Need

WOK: Making Stir-fry is generally done with a wok: a large, deep bowl made of thin metal with curved sides. You can make stir-fry in a frying pan, but it doesn't allow for proper cooking and isn't recommended.

FRESH VEGIES: Fresh vegetables work best, but don't stop yourself from grabbing canned goodies. Canned water chestnuts and mushrooms very often have excellent flavor and can easily be added to your dish by draining off the liquid.

MEAT: If you're adding meat to your dish, it's best to go with something simple at first. Beef takes only a few minutes to cook, and is recommended for beginners.

SPICES: You pick and choose what you want to taste in stir-fry. There are literally hundreds of spices on the market, so sample a few and see what you like. Gingerroot, cashews, Hoisen Sauce, Soy Sauce, sugar and chilies make for great additions.

BOTTOM DISH: Most enjoy their stir-fry on top of a main staple, such as rice. This isn't your only alternative, however. Rice and Soy Noodles, Bean Threads and rice all make excellent bottom dishes. If you're using rice, short or medium grain works best.

Prep Your Foods: Preparing your ingredients before turning on the heat is a must when stir-frying because once the pan is hot, you can't stop. You will literally spend twice as much time preparing your foods as you will cooking them. Things to do ahead of time:

1. Cut your meat (chicken or beef) into small strips and marinade for one hour in a sauce of your choosing. This will help to prevent overcooking of the meat. Sauces can be made of cornstarch, sugars and Soy Sauce or wine and vinegar. You can also purchase ready-made sauces such as beef stock, Hoisen sauce, chili sauce and more. No sauce is also an alternative. In this case, use spices as added flavor.

2. Cut your vegetables into cubes or blocks and set them aside in individual bowls according to cooking time. You'll be cooking your dense vegetables (like carrots) first, so it's good to keep them separated into dishes of their own, so you can quickly add them to the mixture.

3. Get your spices ready to pour. This means pre-measure everything! Typical spices or aromatics include chili peppers, red pepper flakes, scallions, ginger and garlic. Slice and dice and then, set aside.

4. Once you have everything prepared, it's time to preheat the wok. Cooking at high heat is a must. Allow the wok to thoroughly heat to a high temperature before adding anything! A drop of water that sizzles will tell you when your wok has been sufficiently heated. Once your wok is ready, add 1-2 teaspoons of oil. Because you'll be cooking at high heat, you should use a high smoking point oil such as peanut, safflower, corn or canola.

5. When your oil is hot and spread about the bottom of your wok, add your meat, cooking until halfway to three-quarters done. (If you're using beef, this should take only four to five minutes.) Remember, keep the meat in constant motion. Remove meat and set aside.

6. Add your vegetables. Remember to add the denser vegetables first, allowing them to cook for one minute (or until halfway done) before adding another vegetable. Raw vegetables should be heated until barely cooked. (Usually two to three minutes total from beginning to end.) Some people add one half teaspoon of sesame oil to coat vegetables during cooking. This is optional.

7. Re-add your meat to the mixture and stir. Keep the food moving at all times. If something seems to be overcooking, move it to the high corners of the wok, where it is cooler.

8. Add any sauces or flavorings.

9. Keep everything moving. Cover briefly (one minute) to allow all the food to arrive at the same temperature.

10. Enjoy!

Hints:

1. Cook small amounts only. An overloaded wok won't stir-fry. It will steam and boil your food.

2. Don't cover your food until the very end. Remember, you want everything to taste crisp and fresh.

3. Whenever possible, use fresh ingredients.

4. Always prepare ingredients ahead of time.

Sample Ingredients for Oriental Style Vegetables

1 clove of garlic
2tsp. finely chopped ginger
3/4 cup carrots
1 1/4 cup broccoli
1 onion
1 cup chicken or beef broth
1 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. corn starch
1 cup mushrooms
2 Tbs. oyster sauce

Begin by stir frying garlic and ginger for one minute. Add broccoli, carrots and onion and stir fry an additional minute. Stir in broth and stir-fry three minutes, or until carrots are crisp, but tender. Mix together cornstarch and water and slowly pour into the vegetable mixture until thickened. Stir in mushrooms and oyster sauce. Cook for one minute. Remove and enjoy.

Serves 4 91-Calories per serving 1 gram of fat per serving