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Vegan Wok

Posts: 901
Location: Soutwest Ohio
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As a quick disclaimer, I am most certainly not vegan. That being said, I own a number of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks and eat veggie-centric dishes regularly. I've found that meat isn't needed for a good meal, as long as you are selective in what and how you cook.

That brings us to the point of this dish. One of my favorite things about a stir-fry is that you get to change things up constantly. It's hard for it to get dull, even if you serve it every few days. Why? Because you are so flexible on what you can add to the dish.

For those of you unfamiliar with Wok cooking, let me lay out some of the basics. Above all, it is about cooking quickly and over high heat. This means you need to be prepared before you ever turn on the burner. Make sure everything you plan to use is measured out and waiting for the moment it is needed. This also means you need to plan for standing over the stove until the dish is done. Much of the cooking is improv, but those two things are rock solid facts.

Ingredient Groupings
Each type of vegetable will be added in phases. This is based on the cook times of each ingredient. I will note these below.

Group A:
Onions. (A for Alliums? Probably not considering others show up later.)

Group B:
Thick Asparagus
Thinly Sliced Potatoes
Winter Squash

Group C:
Zucchini and Other Summer Squash
Snow Peas
Baby Corn
Thin Asparagus

Group D:
Bean Sprouts
Bamboo Shoots
Greens (Chard, Spinach, Escarole, etc)

Group E:
Sesame Seeds
Cooked Noodles (Rinsed and Drained)
Marinated Tofu
Sliced Water Chestnuts

Group F: (Seasonings)
Soy Sauce
Vegan Oyster Sauce
Peanut Butter (I will explain in a moment)
Crushed Garlic or Garlic Powder
Grated Ginger
Crushed Hot Pepper
Tamari Sauce
Sesame oil

Here's where you need to think a bit. The smaller you cut something, the thinner it cooks. A small piece of broccoli will cook completely before a large chunk of carrot finishes. A julienned carrot will cook long before a thick slice of winter squash. Look at the ingredients from each group you plan to use and try to cut everything to cook at roughly the same rate. You can put everything from a single group into a single bowl. With group F, don't bother pre-measuring the sauces and oils, but you will want anything crushed or grated ready in advance. All of them should be set on the counter in a logical manner.

I'll assume you already have your wok seasoned and ready. If not, that should happen long before you try to cook in it. If so, place it over high heat with nothing in it for about a minute. You want the wok piping hot.

Next, you will add a pool of oil. The amount will depend on how much you plan to cook but use your best judgment. Peanut oil is traditional because it can stand high heat, but any oil with a high smoke point will do. If you are using onion from Group A, add it along with the oil and saute them for a minute or so. This will help flavor the oil. After that (or if you aren't going to use group A), add all of your ingredients from Group B.

Cook these, stirring constantly, until they are partially done. If you are using large pieces, aim for two-thirds to three-quarters done. If you cut them thin and small, aim for about half cooked. I find that adding a bit of vegetable stock helps once you've caramelized a bit of the outside of items like carrots. Only add in small doses so that it steams rather than boils. This also helps effectively cook odd shaped items like broccoli.

Once you are partially cooked, push the veggies up the sides a bit to open a space in the middle. Next, add Group C and continue the process. You may need to add more stock periodically through this stage as well. Again, aim for Group C items to be partially cooked before adding items from Group D.

Group D items only need lightly kissed by the heat and will take a minute or two. Any greens will cook down, so even adding a large number of them won't tend to equal a huge mass in the finished dish.

Group E and F can be switched around depending on what you plan to add from each. I like a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce (vegan in this case), garlic, and peanut butter. Since I find that peanut oil is harder to get at a reasonable price in this area these days, cooking with a vegetable oil of some sort works just fine. The downside is that it lacks that hint of peanut from the authentic dishes of my youth. Adding a tablespoon or so of peanut butter creates that flavor.

I often do Group F before Group E just to help make sure it is well mixed in and coats everything evenly. If you plan to include Tofu, switching the order might be wise to avoid breaking up the tofu too much.

Once everything is fully cooked, serve with rice. I personally like to add the cooked rice to the wok and stir it in. It is a filling and satisfying dish. It can be a strange marvel to take what seems like a small amount of any given vegetable and end up with a large finished dish. It's an especially good way to use up the extras that you find laying around. Since there are no measurements, there's no right or wrong number of a given item. Just figure out what you have and go with it.

It can also make for good seasonal eating, as the contents of the wok will shift as your garden production changes.
Posts: 1793
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Thank you for that.  I've never tried cooking with a wok, simply because I didn't know the things in your post.  It's much appreciated.
D. Logan
Posts: 901
Location: Soutwest Ohio
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Todd Parr wrote:Thank you for that.  I've never tried cooking with a wok, simply because I didn't know the things in your post.  It's much appreciated.

Glad it helps. The only other thing to consider is your choice of Wok and to maintain it. Honestly, you treat it like cast iron in a lot of ways. Avoid the non-stick. For most people, a 14 inch, flat bottom wok is ideal. You'll want to see ring-like ridges all along the sides. Those help keep food up on the edge when you want it to cook slower. Many come with seasoning instructions, but let me note that you would do well to dice a bundle of scallions and grate 1/3 cup of ginger to add to your oil while seasoning. Pressing those all along the sides of the Wok will infuse a bit of the aromatics into the seasoned Wok's walls. Discard or save them after you finish seasoning it. Personally, I find that the scallions are almost always blackened beyond edibility after doing this.

After the initial seasoning, just wipe a little oil on the walls after each use/cleaning, let sit for a few minutes (possibly heat if you like) and then wipe away excess. Store somewhere dry.
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