Wok Wonders

By Jacqueline Dunnington

One of China's gifts to the world of cuisine is a bowl-shaped cooking pan called a wok (sometimes spelled wock). "Wok" is a word of Cantonese derivation, and the wok is traditionally made of iron or copper and usually has two metal handles fused to the pot. This versatile utensil is used to fry over high heat, stirring frequently (hence, the term "stir-fry"). The wok has long since left its land of origin and is now used extensively throughout southeast Asia and by cooks preparing Asian dishes worldwide.

A quote from the December 4, 1977 Sunday Times (London) supplement claimed that "Wok cooking [was] about to sweep the Western world." This prediction has come true in light of the enormous popularity of wok cooking.

Canton Cauliflower and Onion Sauce

(Serves 4)

There's nothing bland about this sauce.

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 small yellow onions, peeled and slivered
  • 3-4 shallots, chopped
  • 4 large mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut in tiny florets
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium variety)
  • 2-3 cups cooked rice (preferably brown)

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat, and add onions and shallots. Cook until transparent, stirring often. Add mushrooms, cauliflower, and soy sauce. Cover wok, and cook 5 more minutes. Serve over cooked rice.

Total calories per serving: 211 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 31 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 296 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Wok Wilted Spinach

(Serves 4)

Plain spinach takes an Asian holiday.

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 scallions, washed, trimmed, and finely chopped
  • 1 pound fresh spinach, washed, trimmed, and shredded
  • 1-2 Tablespoons soy sauce (low-sodium variety)

Heat the oils in a wok over medium heat and add scallions. Cook until soft. Add spinach by handfuls, stirring constantly until all leaves are wilted. Sprinkle with soy sauce, mix well, and serve at once.

Total calories per serving: 90 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 5 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 224 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Korean Rice and Bean Sprouts

(Serves 4)

Korean cooks use a pot similar to the Chinese wok with tasty results.

  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 scallions with tops, washed well and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 heaping Tablespoons sesame seeds (toasted or untoasted, to taste)
  • 2 cups well-washed bean sprouts
  • Few Tablespoons of hot water
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium variety)
  • 2 cups cooked rice (preferably brown)

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat, along with the garlic. Add scallions and red pepper, and then the sesame seeds. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Add the sprouts and keep stirring. Add a few drops of water if needed to keep from sticking. Sprinkle with soy sauce and mix lightly with rice.

Total calories per serving: 204 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 29 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 278 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Corn and Broccoli Stir-Fry

(Serves 4)

This dish is easy to fix, yet hard to forget.

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • 2 Tablespoons untoasted sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup sherry
  • 2 cups trimmed fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons very finely minced fresh ginger root
  • Salt or salt substitute, to taste
  • Cooked brown rice (optional)

In a medium-sized wok, heat oils, seeds, and sherry for about 1 minute. Add broccoli, corn, scallions, and ginger root. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes (until tender but still crisp). Add salt to taste, and serve plain or over brown rice.

Total calories per serving: 150 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 126 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Vietnamese Five-Vegetable Stir-Fry

(Serves 4)

Called Rau Xeo Chay, this main dish is a boon for vegans.

  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil (mixed half-and-half with dark sesame oil, if desired)
  • 6 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 1 large (2 medium) leek, scrubbed, trimmed, halved, and cut into slivers
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into thick slivers
  • 8 green cabbage leaves, washed and shredded into 2-inch-long pieces
  • 4 large mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 baby corn ears, broken into small pieces
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce (low-sodium variety)
  • 2-3 cups cooked rice (preferably brown)

Heat half the oil in a wok, and stir-fry tofu cubes until crisp. Place the cubes on a towel and set aside. To the same wok, add remaining oil. Heat, and add lemongrass and leek. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Mix remaining vegetables and add to the hot oil by the spoonful, stirring after each addition. Add broth, tofu, and soy sauce. Cover and cook until vegetables are soft (5-8 minutes). Serve over rice.

Total calories per serving: 351 Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 44 grams Protein: 14 grams
Sodium: 1036 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Good source of iron.

Chinese Cabbage and Mushrooms

(Serves 4)

Cooked cabbage at its best.

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon very finely minced ginger root
  • 4 cups shredded Chinese cabbage (or use bok choy, if you wish)
  • 1/2 cup carrot shreds
  • 8 large mushrooms (preferably fresh), sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium variety)

Heat oils in a wok along with ginger root. Add cabbage, then carrots, and finally mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Sprinkle with soy sauce and serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 95 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 280 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Jacqueline Dunnington is a freelance writer from Santa Fe, NM, and a regular contributor to Vegetarian Journal.