Dinner With My Family #3: Stir Fry with Asparagus

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Each week, I’ll present a low-cost meal (or a meal that demonstrates a lot of options for cutting costs) that my family eats for dinner and enjoys. Many of the recipes will be vegan or vegetarian, with options to add other ingredients for non-vegetarians.

Earlier this week, I discussed using grocery flyers to plan meals and mentioned that I’d be using some of the items I discovered there to make this week’s meal.

It turned out that my craving for asparagus was just too strong and I wound up using it as the foundation for a stir fry dish. This one turned out really well and I can virtually guarantee I’ll be making it again when our fresh asparagus starts appearing in April.

Finished meal

One key thing you’ll notice about the above dish is that it uses small cubed tofu as the protein source. Don’t sweat the tofu if you’re not into that kind of thing – instead, ignore that part and skip down to the optional ingredients at the bottom.

What You Need
I actually made a double batch in these pictures (as our family loves stir fry and will eat it for days), but I’ll just list the ingredients that would go into a single batch.

The key to any good stir fry is the vegetables and the flavorings you add. Here, I used one onion, four or five cloves of garlic, three cups of asparagus (with the stems cut about every two inches), a medium bell pepper, and a bit of fresh ginger (it’s optional, but tasty). For the flavoring, I used a couple tablespoons of vegetable stock, a tablespoon or so of soy sauce, and two tablespoons of rice vinegar (if you don’t have rice vinegar, substitute a tablespoon of lemon juice – seriously, it works as a decent substitute, though the flavor of the dish changes a bit). I also used sesame seeds as a topping. You’ll also want to flavor this with salt and pepper and perhaps a bit more soy sauce.

In addition, I suggest making about five cups (cooked) of rice of your choosing. Instant rice works fine.

For the protein in the dish, I use about four ounces of tofu, cut into tiny cubes aboout half an inch in size. If you’re not into the tofu, see the optional ingredients at the bottom.

The total cost of the ingredients in my double batch was an estimated $12.50, since I prorated the cost of many of the ingredients (if you only use a bit out of a big bottle, the cost of that bottle is spread out). That makes the above recipe cost $6.25 in ingredients.

The Night Before (or Early That Day)
Simple – chop up all of the vegetables.

Chop the onion in half and slice each half about ten times.

Mince the garlic cloves.

Mince the ginger – you really don’t need much of this.

Cut the asparagus stalks as a bundle. Even out the tops, then cut every two inches down the stem until you have around three cups of asparagus pieces.

Cut the bell pepper in half, then cut each half into thin strips.

Chopped vegetables

Once you’re done, you can store each of these vegetables individually in the fridge if you’re doing this part in advance.

If you’re using something besides tofu for the protein in the dish (like chicken or beef), chop the meat up into tiny pieces in advance, too.

Preparing the Meal
Actually preparing the stir fry only takes about fifteen minutes if you’re using tofu. If you’re using meat, it’ll take a bit longer, as you’ll cook the meat first and then start doing the rest of the preparation right in the same skillet as the meat pieces.

So, you’ve either got a large empty skillet or a skillet with already-cooked meat in it. In either case, add the vegetable stock and turn the heat up to medium-high until the stock is just starting to boil, then add the onions and saute them for about three minutes, stirring all the time.

Add all of the other vegetables (garlic, ginger, asparagus, bell peppers) and keep stir frying them for another three minutes or so.

At this point, if you’re using tofu, add it. You should also add your soy sauce and rice vinegar (or lemon juice). Stir it again, then drop the heat down to low and cover the dish for about two minutes or so.

It's cooking...

You’re done! Take off the lid and add some salt and pepper to your taste. I also like to sprinkle sesame seeds on top, as shown here.

Just before serving

Serve it with rice and some additional soy sauce.

Optional Ingredients
The big thing you can change with this dish is to substitute the tofu for meat. Both chicken and steak would work well for substitution here. In both cases, I would cube the raw meat in advance of the meal, then cook the meat right in the skillet at the start, letting the later liquids deglaze the pan and add to the flavor of the dish.

With stir fry, you really can edit the vegetables however you’d like. Other vegetables that might work well in this stir fry include green onions, spinach, kale, chard, or carrots. Use whatever’s on sale or whatever sounds particularly good to you.

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22 thoughts on “Dinner With My Family #3: Stir Fry with Asparagus

  1. In the penultimate paragraph, I think you mean either “substitute meat for the tofu” or “replace the tofu with meat.”

    Nuts (almonds, cashews, or peanuts) are another interesting addition to vegetable dishes like this.

  2. Looks delicious! For a dish like this I might use a little bit of sesame oil along with the vegetable stock, or added with the other flavorings. It complements soy sauce and rice vinegar quite well.

  3. We make a recipe similar to this all winter long with frozen vegetable mixes. Peppers at this time of year are kind of pricey, and it is more economical to use frozen.

  4. Sesame seeds are even better pan-toasted briefly til they start to turn brown.

    Regarding the vinegar – we freely substitute whatever kind we’ve got (if out of what the recipe calls for) or is handiest to grab, or as you said lemon or lime juice. We have at least 7 kinds of vingegar in our pantry right. Some are stronger than others, so we adjust the amounts to taste.

  5. I live on stir fry :)

    I often add beans (white, kidney, lima, edamame, etc) or lentils instead of meat. I usually cook my own from dried, but canned would work too. I keep a bag of frozen edamame beens in my freezer at all times to throw in salads or stir fries for protein. I often cook extra lentils and freeze them for this purpose too.

    Frozen shrimp is also tasty in stir fry — just thaw them first!

  6. Oooops… I meant “beans”, not “beens” obviously! (You can tell it’s a Friday afternoon!)

    I also use up ginger tea and add a drizzle of honey for flavour — works really well with cashews!

  7. Where you’re adding the soy and vinegar, we usually make a little sauce with water, soy sauce, and some corn starch to pour in to our stir-fry for the last few minutes (I will have to try adding the vinegar/lemon juice here too). The corn starch thickens it up a little so the sauce sticks to the veggies and rice better and generally ensure that everyone cleans their plates. :-)

  8. Ive had several stir fry meals lately, myself. I buy the frozen stir fry vegetable from Kroger and then cook one chicken breast (cubed) with a teaspoon of olive oil. When the chicken is about done, I add the veggies. It makes a great meal for one.

  9. I had to look up “penultimate” I was betting it meant 5th paragraph based on the first 3 letters, but I was wrong and I learned a new word. Thanks!!

  10. “The big thing you can change with this dish is to substitute the tofu for meat.” If the article had been edited before publication, this would read “…meat for tofu.” “…add the vegetable stock and turn the heat up to medium-high until the stock is just starting to boil, then add the onions and saute them for about three minutes…” How do you SAUTE in broth? Saute in a little bit of oil to caramelize the onions so they are golden brown and tasty. If you “saute” onions in broth, they boil. Saute= oil, boil = broth / water.

  11. deRuiter is correct that this isn’t technically a stir-FRY, but it is nonetheless a tasty sounding dish and uses a good alternative cooking method for those who are trying to reduce fat in their cooking. Besides, stir-fry has a more familiar ring than “stir-braise” (braise = cook in liquid).

    I make a dish very much like the one described here and use most of the suggestions given by other readers: cornstarch to thicken the sauce (the spouse really prefers it this way), toasted sesame oil, and toasted cashews or peanuts, toasted sesame seeds. Toasting the nuts and seeds in advance really brings out the flavor. I usually have rice vinegar, but if I didn’t, I might use a little white wine.

  12. Amazing – based on this I tried something similar (but with carrots)! Too good. You should write a cookbook – “The Frugal Vegan”. Thanks for the great post and helpful illustrations.

  13. Asparagus is not in season this time of year. I suppose you would have to use frozen, if you could find it.

  14. Trent…dish sound great.
    Btw: Congratulations on having so many volunteer editors on your staff! Personally, for me, it gets old to read the responses editing your posts. If I read a book, I chafe at grammatical and spelling errors. Not so much with a blog. Makes me wonder how such people have so much time on their hands.

  15. This will sound silly, but I’m pregnant and I’ve had a hard time eating veggies the last month or so – nothing tastes good. But this post made me crave asparagus, which we’ve had three times in the last two weeks. We’re even having stir fry this afternoon for lunch after church services!
    Thanks for the recommendation!

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