Vegetarian Cashew Nut Stir Fry: “OMG, I can eat this?” series

Some simple substitutions make this Thai take-out staple a winning weight-loss contender.

OMG, I can eat this? aims to reconstruct your favorite No Go meals and turn them into delights you can chow down on without feeling terribly afterward.


Take out.

It’s supposed to be a food-lover’s dream… and a gym-goer’s nightmare. And with the advent of Seamless and other delivery apps, you can literally not even move and still get your fix of grease piled with salt piled with god-knows-what-else.

I guess I’m lucky in that I was brought up with home-cooked versions of many of the western world’s mystical take-out favorites. Stir frying was one of those things.

Now, any good home cook that dabbles in stir fry will tell you that heat is king; just ask my mum and what I dubbed her jet engine. A 5-ring burner that, when lit, bellows the sounds of your turbulence nightmares. This thing literally makes a wok smoke in about 5 seconds. That’s bloody hot.

Alas, our miniscule Manhattan kitchen allows us but 2 rings with which to play. Nevertheless, you can still get a good fry on your ingredients without going into the dreaded boil zone if you plan everything out correctly.

And, that’s the key, ladies and gents – planning. Stir frying is about having everything at your fingertips, prepped and ready to be cooked. If you forget an ingredient and need to turn off the heat for a second, all the juices from your protein and your vegetables start to seep out and, the next time you turn on the heat, you’re making a very colorful soup.

Cashew Nut Stir Fry is what we call in Cantonese gwai lo food (I say ‘we’ like I speak an iota of Cantonese… I gleaned a word or two here and there growing up…). Gwai lo translates to “white man” and, we basically mean that it’s a dish for the western masses; usually a fried or oily element, quite sweet, a thickened sauce and mostly meat. Think Sweet and Sour Pork, General Tso’s Chicken or Pad Thai.

Now, that being said, I freaken’ love Cashew Nut Stir Fry. The slight char of the hot wok mingling with the caramelized sauce, creamy yet crunchy nuts and crisp vegetables is akin to a steaming hot bath; intensely comforting. So, how do we get all of these feelings without death-by-take-away?

Simple. We SALT the bastard.

Start by understanding heat. When we understand that a super hot wok or pan will cook our food without sticking with just a teeny bit of oil, we’ve won half the battle. When we season, spice and herb our own food, we add the intense flavor sensations without harm to our arteries.

If we substitute the nutritionally-blah white rice with protein-packing quinoa, we notch this up to a new level of satiety and workout-support.

I’ve removed the meat from this version and replaced it with the complete protein of a soft fried egg and the afore-mentioned quinoa. You can be your usual omnivorous self and add whatever protein you would like!

If you pile enough vegetables into a wok, you’re bound to end up with something that adds a whole heap of filling fibre, plant-based protein and vitamins and minerals to keep any belly satisfied and flat.

Gird your loins, it’s the recipe!


Cashew Nut Stir Fry

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Makes 4 servings


For the stir fry

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 red onion, cut into eighths
  • 1 inch of ginger, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons of Sambal Oelek or your favorite asian hot sauce
  • 1 good swig of soy sauce
  • 1/2 a good swig of dark soy sauce (only if you have it)
  • 1 good swig of oyster sauce
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced diagonally
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced diagonally
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced into medallions (rounds)
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into medium florets
  • 1 large red pepper/capsicum, cut into inch squares
  • 6-10 mushrooms (any variety), quartered
  • Handful of roasted, unsalted cashews
  • 6 basil leaves, sliced
  • 1 scallion/spring onion, finely sliced to garnish

For the fried egg

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 teaspoon oil

For the quinoa

  • 1 1/2 cup quinoa (any color)
  • Water

Method (and a touch of madness)

  • Prep all your veg and place them on a plate in order of hearty to delicate.
  • Throw your quinoa into a small pot (preferably with a glass lid) or rice cooker and wash and drain. Flatten it out.
  • Stick your finger to the bottom of the pot and note where on your finger the quinoa hits. Fill the pot with water up to the next joint in your finger (old asian cooking trick).
  • Boil the water then switch it off when nearly dry. Leave the lid on to steam. If you have a rice cooker, why are you reading this part? Just cook the damn quinoa, you lucky bastard.
  • While that happens, fry the eggs. Heat up a wok or fry pan until literally smoking and add your oil. I prefer a wok because they hold the egg into a nice compact circle and get them super browned and crispy on the outsides.
  • Crack one egg in and step back! It will spit and puff up (and that’s the beauty of it all). Flip or don’t flip (if you like it sunny side up) then immediately remove to keep a runny yolk.
  • Do the same with the rest of the eggs and leave them aside on paper towel to drain. Clean the wok/pan with paper towel.
  • Onto the stir fry! Reheat the wok/pan to smoking and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Stir then add the Sambal Oelek/hot sauce.
  • Depending on how you like your veg, add the thicker/meatier ones first like the broccoli and mushrooms, stir for 30 seconds then add the next lot (like peppers, carrots and celery) stir for 1 minute then add the most delicate ones (like zucchini which can get mushy). Fry until almost cooked.
  • Add soy sauce, dark soy and oyster sauce and stir to coat all the vegetables. At this point, you may start to get quite a juicy mix depending on how hot your burners go. Normally, the recipe would call for a thickener like a corn starch slurry here, but I don’t like adding starches to my food purely for aesthetic purposes, so I leave it out.
  • Once your veg is JUST done, flip off the heat and stir in the cashews and basil.
  • Just before serving, open the lid on your quinoa and use a fork to fluff it up.
  • To serve, build a base of quinoa on a plate, top with 1/4 of the stir fry and crown it with a fried egg. Garnish with green onion, extra cashews and basil.

That was a long one to explain, but it’s a simple and quick process once you get a handle on it. Supes tasty and it looks a treat. Just look at this ooze:


Obviously, you play with this however you like – add or remove vegetables, add or remove seasonings, change up the egg or put in some different protein. Play! It’s the key to finding something that you’ll love for years to come and the key to keeping this varied and interesting.

Guide for the ‘arians:

  • Flexitarian – good
  • Pescetarian – good
  • Vegetarian – good
  • Omnivore – good, add in some protein, if you like. Fry it off and remove it before you start the onion/garlic/ginger. Add it back in right before you put in the sauces.
  • Vegan – don’t use the egg, ensure your sauces are vegan substitutes.
  • Gluten free – ensure your sauces are gluten-free.
  • Lactose free – good

A guide for sauces (at least, of the Kikkoman brand) can be found here.

One day I’ll fry away!

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