This is my most used recipe for vegetables simply because I can finish cooking and clean up before my meat finishes roasting in the oven. Stir-frying vegetables is yet another example of how you can achieve amazing taste without fancy seasonings—just use a few fresh ingredients and cook them well.
I also notice that a lot of beginner cooks have trouble organizing their kitchen space and cutting board, so below the recipe I’ll show you an easy, step-by-step guide to chop without vegetables flying everywhere.
This version of the recipe uses bok choy, a tasty, fast-cooking vegetable commonly found at Asian supermarkets. These days, many other grocers will also stock bok choy, including my neighborhood Safeway, Vons, and Ralph’s. I used to live in the Bay Area where bok choy sold for around $3 a pound in 2018 (sheesh). Even at those prices you can make a serving of bok choy for $1.
Yield: 5 servings
Cost per serving: $0.50–$1.50
Total cook time per serving: 4 minutes
Total cook time (including cleaning): 20 minutes
Active prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Clean time: 5 minutes
2 pounds bok choy
8 cloves of garlic
2 tsp cooking oil, such as canola or olive oil
A few pinches of salt, to taste
- Chop off the ends of the bok choy stems, allowing the leaves to separate. Toss the stem ends.
- Rinse bok choy leaves in a large bowl.
- Chop garlic into thin slices.
- In a large saute pan or wok, add cooking oil and sliced garlic, then turn on heat to high, letting garlic sizzle for one minute.
- Add bok choy (your pan should sizzle nicely) and mix with a wooden spatula until leaves are coated with garlic and oil. Turn heat to medium and add a few pinches of salt.
- Stir fry bok choy by mixing occasionally (every minute or so is fine) for five minutes or until leaves are wilted and bok choy loses its raw crunch. In this stage, I typically rinse out my large bowl, knife, and cutting board to save cleanup time later.
When you clean up, make note of the items that did not touch oil or meat. Those items don’t require soap to wash unless they get especially dirty; using a quick rinse instead of soaping, scrubbing, and rinsing saves tons of cleanup time.
Items that only need rinsing:
Items that need a full wash:
Pan used to cook bok choy
I almost always make this dish while roasting a protein in the oven. If I time it right, the vegetables and meat finish at the same time and I feel like a true chef.
These double-layered bowls are great for washing vegetables but a simple mixing bowl will do just fine. Make sure you get a large one so you don’t spill water everywhere when washing lots of veggies.
I trim the ends of the bok choy, then wash the leaves. Dirt usually gets stuck in the crevice where the leaves meet the stem so this is the easiest way to clean it up properly. Before:
Now, when I have a bunch of veggies to chop, I’ll keep my bowl next to my board and load up as many veggies as I can on one half of the board. Keeping one half of the board clear gives me enough room to safely chop and keep the chopped veggies on the board. I typically use the produce bag the veggies come in as a trash bag. You’ll see my layout below. I’m left-handed, so if you’re right-handed you’ll want to put the unchopped veggies on the left side instead of the right.
After chopping, the leaves separate and you’re left with the stem ends. Those go into your trash bag.
Chopped bok choy, washed and ready to cook. Garlic, ready to chop.
I write 2 teaspoons of oil in the recipe but in reality I usually just add enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Feel free to adjust the oil amount to suit your taste and diet.
Garlic goes into the pan while oil is still cold. Adding garlic before and after heating the pan doesn’t make too much difference in taste; might as well add it earlier to get it cooking as soon as possible. It’ll sizzle when the oil is hot enough and start to smell amazing.
I add the bok choy just when the garlic starts getting a hint of brown. For bok choy, garlic tastes best when it’s cooked through but not browned. I dump the veggies in and stir fry for a few minutes. While some add water to the bok choy to steam it a bit, I find that bok choy cooks so quickly that the leftover water from rinsing it is plenty enough to cook it all the way through.
The final result! Cooking on higher heat preserves the emerald green color and natural sweetness of the bok choy. You’re looking for soft leaves that still have a bit of crunch. The taste should have a warm garlicky fragrance without being too oily. Chinese restaurants serve this dish for upwards of $10 during dinnertime, and you’ve just made it for a few dollars!
As I mentioned before, this dish is my go-to for almost every occasion. The technique has several key benefits that you’ll notice right away.
First, the complete cook time easily fits into the roast time for most meats, including the all-important bone-in chicken thighs. At least once a week I’ll schedule a dinner as follows:
- Preheat oven
- Start cooking rice
- Prep chicken thighs, put chicken in oven
- Prep vegetables, cook vegetables
- Clean up everything except things on stove
- Vegetables, chicken, and rice finish. Dinner is served!
This whole process (including clean up!) takes 45 minutes start to finish because the vegetables cook in parallel with the meat. Super important! Cooking things in parallel is extremely important in keeping cooking times manageable for everyday living. While this is usually tough for the new cook, using the oven for one dish and the stove for another is an easy way to get great results in short amounts of time.
Developing a Chef’s Sense
My mom always says stuff like, “Oh, I just tossed a few ingredients and cooked it until it looked good enough,” right after she makes the most amazing dish I just can’t seem to get right. How? She’s developed a chef’s sense, or a sense for how the food will taste just by watching and feeling it. Good news: you can develop a chef’s sense yourself, and it’s not hard!
Stir-fried veggies are a perfect way to start. Here’s my suggestion for the new cook: taste your veggies every minute of the stir fry. You’ll notice a distinct, raw crunch right after you put the veggies in the pan. As they soften, the taste also mellows out and starts meshing with the garlic. After adding salt, mix and taste again. Both garlic and vegetable flavors should be more pronounced.
After a couple times, you’ll be able to predict how the veggies will taste as they cook. You’ll also be able to sense when they’re reached the right texture just by tossing them around with your spatula. It’s not magic; it’s your chef’s sense!
This recipe works great with nearly every vegetable I’ve tried and works especially well with: broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, bell peppers, squash, gailan, and cabbage. You’ll have to change the cooking time for these different veggies, but everything else stays the same. I typically just grab whatever’s on sale at the supermarket and cook that for a few days at a time. The recipe also works great with frozen vegetables which have a longer shelf life (cook them straight from the freezer); try both and see what you prefer.
The thicker vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, require a longer cook time; add a quarter cup of water right after mixing the vegetables in the garlic oil and cover the pan for ten minutes. Without the water, the garlic will likely turn bitter and burn before the veggies finish cooking. For these hardy vegetables I like stir-frying until they start browning before adding water. Browning the vegetables imparts a wonderful nutty flavor that you should definitely try out sometime. It all goes to show that you don’t need fancy flavorings or spices to get great flavor—just let your ingredients shine!
The wombo-combo of roast chicken, rice, and stir-fried veggies have carried me through many a time-crunched week, saving both time and money when I needed it most. It’s hard to beat an average of ten minutes and $2 a portion.
Grab a bag of veggies next time you hit the supermarket and give this recipe a try!