Recipe Idea: Simple Stir Fry

Having the most frugal grocery budget in the world isn’t going to help you and if you can’t put together at least a few healthy, tasty, and cheap eats! Every month, The Outlier Model features a cheap recipe idea, along with the cost breakdown.

This is an easy weekday dinner that you can mix and match with whatever veggies and meats you have on hand.  It’s a great way to use up vegetables and you don’t necessarily need great cuts of meat or even a lot of meat.  Sometimes, I make it with frozen pre-cooked shrimp or tofu for something different.

Cooking in a wok, at the London Mela 2005. Source: Jan van der Crabben (Photographer) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wok_Cooking.jpg


  • 2+ cups veggies – your choice! (~$1.50)
  • 1/2 cup – 2/3 cup protein – your choice! (~ $1.00)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-2 heaping tsp’s corn starch ( < $0.10)
  • 2-3 tbsp soy sauce (< $0.10)
  • 1 tsp sugar (< $0.10)
  • 1 tsp chili garlic sauce (optional) (< $0.10)

Prepare your meat and veggies.  For stir fry, veggies should be cut into thin strips (eg. carrots, peppers) or small chunks (eg. broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini).  Large vegetable chunks (eg. cauliflower, broccoli) should be lightly blanched.  Meats should be thinly sliced.  If you’re using tofu, the firm kind is easiest – you can cut these into chunks or deep fry them beforehand.  Tofu puffs can be cut in half.

Next, prepare the sauce by combining the water, soy, cornstarch, sugar, and chili garlic sauce.  The exact amount of soy sauce and cornstarch can be adjusted depending on whether you like a saltier stir-fry, a thicker sauce, or a thinner sauce.

Heat up a pan to medium-high.  Add a drizzle of oil.  When the oil is hot, toss in your meat/protein.  Cook until it is browned and add a drizzle of the sauce.  Then, remove it from the pan and set it aside.  Next, add another drizzle of oil to the pan.  When the oil is hot again, begin adding vegetables.  Start with the biggest/longest to cook vegetables, then progressively add the more delicate veggies in 2-3 minute intervals.  For example, I usually add cauliflower and carrots early, while I leave peppers and bean sprouts until the end.  Between each vegetable, add a bit more sauce.  When all of your veggies are in the pan, add the protein and the remaining sauce back in.  Stir-fry for another 2-3 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and you’re done!

Serve over plain steamed rice.

Servings: 4

Cost per serving: About $1 per serving when including rice.  You could easily reduce that cost by using butchered meat scraps or seasonal vegetables.

Possible combinations:

  • Broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, and beef
  • Cauliflower, red pepper, baby corn and chicken
  • Red pepper, green pepper, onion, basil, a dash of fish sauce and tofu

Frugal hack: Using seasonal vegetables or even just leftover vegetables that you have lying around will cut down costs dramatically.  For example, when it’s in season, green peppers can go down to 49 cents a pound!  Or during the summer growing season when you have mountains of zucchini, consider making stir fry!  As well, meat is really just a flavor enhancer to stir fry.  Use meat minimally to keep your vegetable content high and your food costs low.

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