Oyster sauce is my favorite thing for flavoring vegetable stir fries. But Sam the vegetarian does not want to include any animal products in her food. Oyster sauce being made from pureed oyster meat, I had to forego it. No worries though. There’s another way to make a vegetable stir fry tasty without oyster sauce — the trick is to flavor the oil very, very well. With what? A lot of spices.
And I’m not talking heat. Most people think that spicy and hot are the same when it comes to food but they’re really different things. Spices can be hot, earthy, piquant, tangy, pungent or sweet. By choosing a spice variety, or a combination of spice varieties, as a base for a vegetable stir fry, you can cook a very fragrant and tasty dish.
I used very common spices — garlic, ginger, bay leaf and peppercorns — to flavor the oil. Feel free to use your own spice melange. Cumin, mustard seeds, lemongrass, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon bark and cardamom are great choices too.
- 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 2 to 3 slices ginger
- zest of half a lemon (in large pieces so you can remove them)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
- 1 cup julienned bell pepper
- 1 cup julienned carrot
- 2 cups julienned white cabbage
- 1 cup julienned eggplants
- 1 onion julienned
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- a big pinch of sugar (trust me, you want to add sugar)
- juice of 1/2 to a whole lemon
- toasted sesame seeds (black or white, or both, will work; see how to dry toast sesame seeds)
Pour the sesame seed oil and vegetable oil into a wok or frying pan. Add the garlic, ginger, lemon zest, bay leaf and peppercorns. Heat the oil — over the lowest setting of your stove — for about five minutes or until fragrant. Scoop out all the spices and discard.
Turn up the heat to medium-high (no, not high as is usual for stir frying because sesame oil burns fast). Throw in the carrot and capsicum first (they take the longest to cook), sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and stir fry for a minute.
Add the eggplants, sprinkle more salt and pepper, and stir fry for half a minute.
Add the cabbage and onion, sprinkle more salt and pepper, add the sugar, and stir fry for a minute and a half.
Turn off the heat. Drizzle the lemon juice over the vegetables. Stir. Taste. Make adjustments — depending on your preference, you might want to add salt, pepper, sugar or lemon juice, or all of them.
Divide among individual plates (shallow bowls work better, actually), sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve.