Weeknight Dinners

People constantly ask me what we make for dinner now that I’ve graduated from culinary school. Maybe they imagine I’m whipping up souffles and Beef Bourguignon, but the reality is that I still work a full time job and neither I nor Mr. Bookdwarf gets home before 7.

Over the years we’ve developed some easy but tasty weeknight meals. Our most common weeknight meal is usually a stir-fry made with whatever we have in the fridge. It’s really great when you get some stuff from the farmer’s market. We usually make it with ground pork, bell pepper, cabbage, and carrots, but you could do just about any combination. Last night it was pork, bell pepper, cabbage, kohlrabi, and corn. Everything’s an estimate, we don’t measure, and it never comes out exactly the same, but it’s usually good and pretty quick.

Weeknight Pork Stir Fry

About a pound of ground pork (or substitute other protein: cheap cuts of steak, chicken, tofu, whatever).

2-3 carrots

1 onion

1 red bell pepper, diced finely.

Half a cabbage and/or whatever other vegetables you’ve got around the house. This time it was kohlrabi and corn, but it could be broccoli or snow peas or whatever was at the market or whatever’s going to go bad first if you don’t eat it tonight.

Hot peppers

A knob of ginger about an inch and a half long

3-4 cloves of garlic

Cilantro or thai basil

If you have them on hand, mushrooms and water chestnuts are nice.

Sesame oil, 2 tsp or so

Hot sauce (garlic-chili sauce or sriracha or both), I use a lot!

Fish sauce, 1 TBS

Oyster sauce, 2 TBS

Put your meat in a big bowl, and grate in ginger and garlic. Throw in about a half-tablespoon of sesame oil, and about a tablespoon of hot sauce, maybe more if you like it spicy, and some fish sauce. Use at least a tablespoon of fish sauce. Throw in your diced bell pepper as well, why not. Stir it around.

Cut your carrots into little ovals so they’re about the same size. Set them in one bowl. Cut your other veggies up and set them aside in the same way, and :  You’ll wind up with four or five bowls of assorted sliced vegetables.

Heat up a big pan with a little oil. You’re going to par-cook your veggies in batches, not all the way through but until they’re slightly tender.

Start with the carrots, then set them aside. You may need to add a little more oil. Then cook your other veggies. You can pile them in with the carrots if you want. Then your onions, and set them aside. Then your hot peppers. You may need to add a little more oil between batches, or not. Just enough to keep stuff from sticking.

Then take everything out of the pan and get it good and hot and fry up your meat. Don’t stir it for the first few minutes: You want it to brown. At this point Mr. Bookdwarf usually goes to wash a couple of dishes because otherwise he gets impatient staring at it, and stirs, and it won’t brown right.

Once it’s browned on one side, stir it. If you’re using ground meat, now’s a good time to make sure it’s broken into approximately even bits. Let it brown a little more – but don’t cook it so much that it dries out entirely. When it’s just about cooked all the way through, add your par-cooked veggies and stir until everything’s hot. Add your mushrooms and water chestnuts, if you’re using them. When the mushrooms have softened, drizzle on about a tablespoon of oyster sauce and your cilantro or basil. Did you forget anything else? All your ingredients should be in by now.

Stir everything around a little more. Taste it. Make sure everything is thoroughly hot and all the flavors are blended. Maybe add more hot sauce. You can always make it more spicy.

Put it over brown rice. It’s good garnished with more basil or with a bit of lime.

5 thoughts on “Weeknight Dinners

  1. Avid reader

    I have just discovered Bookdwarf and find in looking at past posts that I will definitely continue to read this since I have read and loved a number of books that you have recommended . Please don’t stop now that you have your culinary degree and might go work at some great restaurant !!! Looking forward to future recommendations.


  2. Anne D.

    We have pork! We have carrots, cilantro and cabbage! We have rice. And we have some of the other ingredients. This is tonight’s dinner inspiration! Thanks



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