– Extract from The Big Book of Wok By Nicola Graimes
Since stir-fried vegetables are cooked in a matter of minutes, they retain much of their vitamin and mineral content, making it possible to prepare meat-free meals in a wok that are as packed with nutrients as they are appealing to the senses. Asian countries also offer up a treasure trove of vegetarian culinary delights, that are not only quick to prepare but are also highly colourful, rich in flavour and varied in texture, with a deliciously light, fresh quality.
When stir-frying vegetables in a wok, it is important to remember a few rules. Always cut them up into uniformsized pieces, so that they cook evenly. Add denser vegetables, such as carrots and green beans, to the wok first, as they require a longer cooking time than, say, courgettes or beansprouts. And do bear in mind the shape of the vegetable. Cutting long vegetables on the diagonal makes them look more appealing than chunks or slices and creates a bigger surface area, speeding up cooking time.
In addition, a wok can also be used in the same way as the Indian kadahi (a wok-shaped pan with round handles on either side) to create fabulously fragrant curries, such as the ever-popular vegetable kormas and dahls, as well as Thai green and red curries and Malaysian coconut curries.
Half-moon aubergine with chilli & garlic
Preparation Time: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes standing time
Cooking Time: 15–22 minutes
Ingredients: 2 medium aubergines, sliced into rounds then halved salt and freshly ground black pepper: 4 tbsp sunflower oil; 4 cloves garlic, chopped; 2 red bird’s eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped juice of 1 lemon; handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
1 Put the aubergine pieces on a plate and sprinkle generously with salt. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. Rinse well, then pat dry with kitchen paper.
2 Heat a wok until hot. Add the oil, then toss in half of the aubergine and stir-fry it for 7 minutes until lightly browned and tender. Remove from the wok with a slotted spoon and set on one side. Add the remaining aubergine and stir-fry for 7 minutes.
3 Return the first batch of aubergine to the wok, then toss in the garlic and chillies and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Stir in the lemon juice, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve, sprinkled with the torn basil leaves.
Oriental mushrooms in hoisin sauce
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 6 minutes
Ingredients: 4 tbsp hoisin sauce; 4 tbsp water; 1 tsp cornflour; 3 tbsp sunflower oil; 2 cloves garlic, chopped; 5cm (2in) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped; 1 large green pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces; 125g (41⁄2oz) shiitake mushrooms, halved; 125g (41⁄2oz) chestnut mushrooms, halved; 125g (41⁄2oz) oyster mushrooms, halved if large; 100g (31⁄2oz) enoki mushrooms; 3 tbsp Shaoxing wine or whisky; 1 tsp sesame oil
1 Mix together the hoisin sauce, water and cornflour in a small bowl and set on one side.
2 Heat a wok until hot. Add the sunflower oil, then toss in the garlic and ginger and stir-fry them for 30 seconds. Add the green pepper and stir-fry for another minute.
3 Add the shiitake and chestnut mushrooms and stir-fry for 2 minutes, then add the oyster and enoki mushrooms and stir-fry for another minute until tender.
4 Pour in the wine, stir until reduced, then add the hoisin sauce mixture. Cook for a minute over a medium heat or until the mushrooms are glazed, adding more water if the mixture becomes too dry. Stir in the sesame oil and serve immediately.
Sweet & sour vegetables
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
Ingredients: 4 tbsp vegetable stock; 1 tbsp Chinese rice vinegar; 1 tbsp caster sugar; 2 tbsp light soy sauce; 2 tbsp groundnut oil; 2 onions, sliced; 12 baby corn; 2 large handfuls of mangetout, trimmed; 115g (4oz) shiitake mushrooms,; thickly sliced; 2 cloves garlic, chopped; 2 pak choi, sliced lengthways; 2 handfuls of beansprouts
1 Mix together the stock, rice vinegar, sugar and soy sauce in a small bowl and set on one side.
2 Heat a wok until hot. Add the oil, then toss in the onions and stir-fry them for 2 minutes. Add the baby corn, mangetout, mushrooms, garlic and pak choi and stir-fry for another minute.
3 Stir in the stock mixture and cook for 1 minute. Toss in the beansprouts and serve immediately.