Morganna’s Simple Vegetable Stir Fry Using Barbara’s Rules of Three

To test my theories on making simple Chinese stir fries, Morganna set out to follow my Rules of Three, and concoct a vegetarian dish to accompany another stir fry I was making that included meat.

Morganna is generally no better at following formulas and recipes than I am, but she stuck to the premise of my posts, and came up with a very simple recipe that she thought was tasty, nourishing and aesthetically pleasing.

In my posts, I have suggested using only three main ingredients: a protein or mushroom, a green vegetable (preferably leafy) and an orange, yellow, red or white vegetable. For her main ingredients, Morganna chose fresh shiitake mushrooms, (substituting for a protein ingredient, since we were having a separate meat dish), gai lan for the greens, and sweet red bell pepper for the second vegetable. She felt that the soft, yielding texture of the mushrooms would be beautifully set off by the crisp gai lan stems and the barely stir fried bell pepper slices, while the velvety, wilted leaves of the greens would give a different layer of texture. If we had not had gai lan in the fridge, she probably would have used broccoli, as we all love it dearly, especially stir fried.

Out of the list of aromatics, she chose onions for their sweetness, garlic because she loves it, and fermented black beans, because she felt that the savory, slightly bitter umami flavor would be excellent with gai lan and would enhance the earthy meatiness of the mushrooms. She also knew that garlic and black beans are a classic flavor combination which have been used to in various Cantonese dishes for centuries, so she knew that they would work well together. She cut the onion into thin slices so it would brown quickly, flavoring the oil intensely, and she minced the garlic to affect maximum flavor release, while the black beans, she simply mashed roughly.

For condiments, she chose dark soy sauce for its umami boosting flavor and coloring potential, oyster sauce, because it goes so well with gai lan, and sesame oil, because it is one of our family’s favorite flavors and aromas, especially when it is enhancing mushrooms. (Well, actually, Zak like sesame oil on anything but mushrooms, which he dislikes intensely.)

Finally, the supporting ingredients she chose were canola oil as a cooking medium, homemade chicken stock to deglaze the wok and form the backbone of the reduced sauce, and a tiny pinch of sugar which not only would enhance the flavor, but would, when the stock was reduced, act to thicken the sauce very slightly, since she chose to not use cornstarch. The reason she chose not to use the cornstarch was because she wasn’t marinating anything, so the cornstarch wasn’t completely necessary. She also didn’t want a very thick sauce, but instead wanted the sauce to just barely cling to the ingredients as a thin, clear brown glaze.

How did it all turn out?

Well, I was careful not to tell her how to cook the stir fry, and the only advice I gave was the continued admonition to only use three, ONLY THREE, ingredients from each category as she formulated the recipe. She had fun trying to limit herself to the parameters of the Rules of Three, and generally followed the methods I have taught her on how to stir fry, which she has now memorized to the point it is second nature.

The stir fry was excellent, and its earthy, sweet and bitter flavors were a perfect foil for the spicy-sweet braised pork dish I made. The scarlet of the peppers and the vibrant emerald greens brought a sizzle of color to the deep brown mushrooms and black bean-flecked sauce. The mushrooms soaked up the soy sauce, and their meaty flavor was enhanced, while the sweet peppers popped with sugary sweetness. It was an altogether delectable dish, and Morganna was quite pleased with it, as well she should have been.

Morganna’s Simple Vegetable Stir Fry


3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, lightly crushed
10 large fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut into 1/4″ thick slices
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon raw or brown sugar
1/2 pound gai lan, thick stems removed and discarded, the rest cut into 2″ pieces
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1 sweet red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4″ thick strips
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil


Heat wok until it smokes, then add canola oil, and allow to heat thirty seconds more, until the oil shimmers with movement.

Add the onion and stir fry about a minute, until it begins to take on color. Add the black beans,a nd stir fry for another thirty seconds or so.

Add the mushrooms, and continue stir frying. When the mushrooms shrink, after about a minute, add the garlic, soy sauce and sugar and stir fry for about another thirty seconds. Add the gai lan and the broth or stock, and bring mushrooms up to the top of the gai lan, scooping the greens close to the bottom of the wok. When the leaves to the gai lan brighten in color and wilt, add the bell pepper and stir fry for another thirty seconds.

Add the oyster sauce and stir fry to combine thoroughly and to heat it through. Remove from heat and drizzle with sesame oil, giving the dish a final stir before scooping it onto a heated platter and serving with steamed rice.

This is the final post on my series of how to create your own simple Chinese stir fried dishes. If anyone uses these ideas to make their own stir fries, and you are interested in me featuring it here, send me a link to it on your blog (or, if you have no blog, send me photos and your description) and I will post a link here in a future post, or will write a post featuring your recipes.

Happy cooking, folks!


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  1. This is such a great post! You are such a brilliant teacher. I suddenly feel like I understand stir-fries.

    Comment by Nupur — May 14, 2007 #

  2. This sounds utterly delicious. I’ve been cooking along with your posts and I have yet to make a bad meal.
    Thank you!

    Comment by Nancy — May 14, 2007 #

  3. wow !!!!!excellent stir fry ….

    Comment by Deepa — May 14, 2007 #

  4. Thank you all. I am very happy to hear from so many people how helpful this series has been for them. It is good to know that my teaching ability has translated well to online media.

    Comment by Barbara — May 15, 2007 #

  5. its brilliant when its possible to make excellent food without too much fuss. Thanks…Come and check out our guest writer chef who has worked with raymond blanc in London and is writing a weekly column for us at

    see you!

    Comment by remainsofthedesi — May 15, 2007 #

  6. Thanks for the excellent stir-fry lessons. I followed your guidelines and made something that I loved.

    Main ingredients: carrots, broccoli, cashews
    Aromatics: garlic, ginger, sesame seeds
    Condiments: sesame oil, soy sauce, broad bean paste
    Supporting Ingredients: vegetable broth, peanut oil

    The cashews were my “protein” because I’m a vegetarian who hates mushrooms and tofu. I chose broad bean paste for a condiment partly because I thought it would increase the protein content a bit.

    Thanks again! If not for your guide I would probably have resorted to trying out various over-the-counter stir-fry sauces. This is WAY better.

    Comment by Holey — May 21, 2007 #

  7. That sound great, Holey! Cashews sound great as a protein ingredient–it is nice to see used in Chinese food as something other than a garnish. Their flavor is great with soy sauce.

    Broad bean paste does have a good amount of protein in it–you were right on that. It also has an incredible amount of flavor.

    Keep on wokking–and if you ever have questions, email me, or if you want to let me know of a particularly good combination like this one, leave a comment!

    Comment by Barbara — May 21, 2007 #

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