Work yourself up a bit of wok-bliss

I consider stir-frying the modern answer to the "cook's surprise" casserole my Mom assembled from all of the fast-fading ingredients she could cull from the 'fridge.

By reaching for the wok instead of the casserole dish, you're on your way to a healthy solution to rescuing a bin full of expensive, late-winter veggies from an army of colorful microbes. It also helps us get a handle on the variety issue at a time of year when the creative side of our brains is kicked into overdrive to avoid the broken-record choruses of "Broccoli, again!?" at the dinner table.

Not that broccoli shouldn't be part of your stir-fry repertoire. But right now, the asparagus from California — although dear in price if you're paying for pounds and pounds of it — is affordable when used sparingly. And what about a smattering of snow peas, red bell peppers, mushrooms, sweet onions and zucchini?

Other ingredients destined to create a bit of wok-bliss are hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts (a great thing for crunch), red cabbage (which is sturdier and more flavorful than green), eggplant (it absorbs all the other flavors nicely), a sprinkling of hot red pepper for kick, mung bean sprouts, and perhaps some chunks of tofu or tempeh. If you need to flesh out that vegetarian feast, this would be the perfect time to thaw that single chicken breast or pork chop you keep shoving to the back of the freezer until you've assembled three more of its kind. Sliced thin, it will harmonize with rather than overpower the other ingredients.

I also find roasted garlic cloves to be particularly tantalizing in a stir-fry. When baked at a moderate temperature for about an hour, garlic becomes relatively harmless — from a dragon-breath perspective — and actually achieves a mild, almost buttery texture and flavor. Thus, when tossed in with a panful of other ingredients, the affect is marvelous.

I've provided directions on how to roast whole heads so you can give this a try.

The only step remaining is the addition of a dynamite sauce to meld all of those fresh flavors into one presentation. Indeed, it's the ability to create several well-executed, simple seasonings that can stretch those limited produce picks into weeks of exotic dishes. The following sauces are as versatile in nature as they are flavorful in character.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.


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