Monday, June 7, 2010

The Problem With Stir-Fry

Stir-fry is an excellent back-up plan. When the baby broccoli is looking a little limp and the mushrooms a bit too shriveled, even for edible fungus, I dig out the wok and the General Tso and toss up what is essentially Remnants On Rice.

The beauty of a stir-fry is that anything can be sauteed in a wok and eaten with Boil-in-a-Bag rice. A handful of almost-slimy green beans? Nearly dry baby carrots? Mixed veggies and shrimp with freezer burn? Toss 'em in.

Generally, stir-fry night is when Chef Matt is working, which is unfortunate for two reasons. One: Matt loves any food with a spicy Asian sauce eaten with rice/skinny noodles. He has uncanny Asian Takeout Radar that can isolate any restaurant serving crab rangoons within a five-mile radius, even if it's a city he's never set foot in before. Two: If Matt made the stir-fry, it would be a perfect tower of flavors, coated just so in sauce, ladled artfully over not-too-crunchy rice.

When I make it, there is no precision. There is no careful calculation to determine when the sweated onions are ready to receive the red peppers, and no amount of sauce can mask the unmistakable flavor of "burned."

The big problem with stir-fry, however, is not that I can't make it right, although I suppose that is a problem, too. The difficulty is that it's a pile of vegetables smothered in sauce that's not ketchup, offered next to the starch that is the most easily wedged in between floorboards.

My two-year-old flat-out refuses to eat stir-fry, even when I painstakingly spoon around the offensive mushrooms and onions, digging out every kernel of corn to place on her plate next to plain rice and two relatively sauceless chicken pieces. I can be finished eating, have the kitchen cleaned and be halfway through a Harry Potter novel, and she'll still be staring down at the unacceptable dinner on her tray and the gummy rice she's scattered across the floor.

I am resolved to be firm with dinner and not give in with a PBJ. But when I'm on my hands and knees picking up individual pieces of rice, I'm tempted to swallow my pride.

It's such a wonderful idea, in theory: Use up leftover food AND get double the daily vegetable intake. In practice, I'd be better off giving the two-year-old animal crackers for dinner and saving my sad little stir-fry for someone who has spent enough time in good/bad/ugly Chinese takeout places to at least appreciate my attempt.

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