March 10, 2011

Cast Iron Stir-Fry With Avocado, Basil & Peanuts

by IsaChandra

Serves 4
Total time: 30 mins || Active time: 30 mins

I don’t really like to be a culinary prescriptivist. I think it’s important to know what “authentic” food is, but I definitely don’t stick to it. Especially as a vegan chef, we’re constantly playing with tradition and concepts, creating vegan translations of classics and breathing new life into old favorites.

But the bottom line is that no matter what, my food will always be a reflection of the world as seen by a Jewish American woman from Brooklyn. As obsessed as I am with how things are really done, I will never be able to do them that way. I can watch the making of phyllo all day long and I can read books on the history of scalloped potatoes, but will I ever be able to make a stir-fry like a Cantonse chef? Hell no!

So I’ve all but given up on cooking with a wok. My kitchen has a budget on space and plus, I just wasn’t getting it right. Too many stir-fries end up as something else. The ingredients crowd the pan and the food ends up steaming instead. The heat is never quite high enough, the tofu doesn’t brown, the broccoli is mushy, chaos ensues. When I think stir-fry I think crisp, seared veggies and tofu with a nice skin, chewy and charred.

The only way for me to get it the way I like is to cook things separately, in a cast iron pan, at a very high heat, and very quickly. It doesn’t have to be the pain in the ass it sounds like – as each ingredient cooks you can prep the next, so everything should be ready in 30 minutes or so. I keep the sauce simple, salty but delicate, bringing the flavors out instead of obscuring them.

I live in a mixed couple home. We’re both vegan, but one of us is fat and one is skinny. I’m trying not to put more weight on and he’s always trying to keep his weight on or even gain a little, so instead of adding a lot of fat to the actual dish while cooking, I rely on the garnishes to even things out. He gets more avocado and peanuts, and I top mine with a little less. I used to only use Thai basil in stir fries, but I love the California tastes here. Peanut, avocado and fresh basil are the bestest besties in the world, and perfect for cooling off the stir-fry, adding creaminess, crunch and a burst of freshness.

If you don’t have a well seasoned cast iron skillet, you can still make this recipe in a regular pan, but cast iron really makes everything cook better and taste better! I use peanut oil in a spray bottle because of the high smoke point, but you can use a thin layer of peanut oil if you don’t want to spray it. I didn’t list how much, since I just spray it as needed, using as little as possible. If your cast iron is well seasoned, it doesn’t need much oil. Soon I’m going to do a little post on seasoning cast iron, so look out for that!

I love to serve this over quinoa, but brown jasmine rice is great, too. Oh, and keep the Sriracha close at hand if you love spice. Again, I really love it but since my boyfriend doesn’t I keep it relatively tame with some crushed red pepper flakes.

Sauce ingredients:

2 tablespoons hoison sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce (or gluten free tamari)
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 tablespoons water

For the stir-fry:

Peanut oil (in a spray bottle if you’ve got it)
14 oz tofu, cubed (press it if you have the time, otherwise just blot with a paper towel to remove moisture)
Fresh black pepper
1 lb broccoli, cut into florettes, stems sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 small red onion, sliced into half moons
1 bell pepper (red, yellow or orange), sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (use half that if you’re a spice wimp)

To garnish:
Avocado, diced
Roasted salted peanuts
2 big handfuls fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (or thinly sliced)

Preheat the cast iron over high heat. On my stove, I bring it up to about 8, but stovetops vary. In the meantime, mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Have at the ready a baking pan or mixing bowl to place the ingredients as they finish cooking. I like to use a 9×13 pan so that there’s plenty of room and things aren’t sitting on top of each other and steaming.

Once pan is good and hot, apply a thin layer of olive oil. Add the cubed tofu and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. The ingredients should immediately sizzle when they hot the pan, otherwise, turn the heat up. Cook for about 7 minutes, tossing often and spraying with oil as necessary, until it’s nicely browned, like so:

All sides don’t have to be evenly browned, just as long as a few of them are, you’re good to go.

Transfer tofu to the baking pan or bowl, and proceed with the broccoli. Apply a thin layer of oil, toss in broccoli, add a pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. Cook until broccoli is charred and bright green, about 5 minutes. Cover the pan between tosses, so that it cooks faster. Transfer to the pan with the tofu.

Now proceed with the onion and peppers. Apply a thin layer of oil, and toss in the onions and peppers. Spinkle with a pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, it should be charred but still crisp. Transfer to the pan with the tofu. Now we’ll finish it off with the sauce.

Add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes to the cast iron pan and drizzle with a little oil and saute until fragrant (about a minute) being careful not to burn. Add the sauce and mix together until heated through and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Now, add back all the veggies and the tofu and toss to coat. Taste for salt and seasoning.

Serve over quinoa or brown rice, top with avocado, peanut and basil and serve hot!

  • March 10, 2011 at 11:30 pm: Logan L. Masterson

    I’ve got to try that! I’ve always had the problems you describe with wok cooking, and have ruined the finish on more than one nonstick wok. One of them was electric, I think. The ingredients never to seem to get dry or hot enough. Your cast iron method will be put to the test in my kitchen! Thanks!

  • March 10, 2011 at 11:54 pm: Terry

    My 30+ year old 8″ cast iron skillet is my go-to pan for almost everything, especially stir-fry. I recently found a 10″ skillet at a garage sale ($5!) that is 3 or 4 years old, I plan to pass it down to one of my children in about 20 years. These two pans along with my enameled cast iron dutch oven and two copper bottomed sauce pans are all the pots and pans I will ever need.

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:02 am: Allison

    looks delicious! Can’t wait to try it =)

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:08 am: Nikki

    This is awesome! I make tofu stir-fry about 2-3 times a week (since I’m obsessed with low calorie, high veggie & protein content dishes).. This method sounds fantastic. I use a two non-stick pans (1 for tofu and 1 for the veggies). Eventually once the tofu’s done it’s added to the veggie mix. Sesame oil is a great addition when cooking the tofu – gives a good flavor without adding a ton of calories!

    And Srirachaaaaaa – what would we do without it!! ;D

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:18 am: Abigail

    Great advice! That sounds totally simple and delicious! I definitely cannot wait for that post about seasoning a cast iron pan. I want a bad ass cast iron.

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:22 am: Jessie

    I do a very similar method in my cast iron skillet, but I love how you did the sauce, cooking the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes in oil first, I’m sure that give the sauce a lot more flavor. I’ll definitely try this!

  • March 11, 2011 at 12:41 am: jodye @ 'scend food

    Mm this looks great, the sauce sounds so delicious. I make stir fries in my cast iron pan nearly every night!

  • March 11, 2011 at 1:02 am: Lisa

    This sounds really good, can’t wait to try it. Also can’t wait for your post about seasoning cast iron. I recently got my first cast iron, a pre-seasoned Lodge skillet. Will you also be commenting about cleaning? I find it so hard not to wash it with dish soap, but I have not given in! A quick wipe with a sponge that comes up all black does not give me that squeaky-clean comfort I’m looking for.

  • March 11, 2011 at 1:13 am: Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day

    I adore my cast iron .. (I am cooking in the same pan I used when I was a kid with my LUCKY spatula).. I use this method for stir fries.. it is the best way.. and like you said, to get as much flavor from as little fat. I love and addition avocado here.. I don’t think I ever would have thought of that in an asian stir fry!

    • March 11, 2011 at 4:09 am: IsaChandra

      I love that you’ve had the same pan all this time! Who can say that (and live to tell) about their yucky non-sticks pans?

  • March 11, 2011 at 5:33 am: Chelsea

    Love this! I’ve got an avocado tree in my yard (God bless Hawaii!) but never thought to add them to stir fries. Did I mention I love this?

  • March 11, 2011 at 8:50 am: J3nn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog)

    That first picture is so beautiful! Love all the colors. Yum!

  • March 11, 2011 at 1:11 pm: Sneaky Vegan

    This looks DIVINE! Have only recently stumbled onto your blog and am eagerly awaiting my copy of Veganomicon!! I’m sure I’m not the first, but wanted to pass on the Stylish Blogger Award to you anyway – love love love your blog!

  • March 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm: Sarah H

    Do you have a recommended brand of hoison sauce? The varieties we’ve tried at WF haven’t been to our liking but we aren’t sure what to try at our local Asian market. I also have the same question about curry powder. We’ve been using the WF brand madras curry powder but aren’t in love with it. We have all of your cookbooks, and love them, my top favorite is Vegan Brunch – the recipes are so awesome and the photos are tantalizing :)

  • March 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm: Anita

    I love the California flavor you added. Nice touch! Your recipes rock, Isa. I know the feeling about the boy. We are both vegan and healthy, but he can eat super late without consequence and snack constantly! xoxo

  • March 12, 2011 at 1:57 am: Kristina

    I’m in a similar situation in my home too — I don’t want to put on anymore weight and my fiance can barely keep weight on. I’ll definitely be trying out your advice here! Thanks for all the great recipes

  • March 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm: KD: Your Daily Vegan

    I can never get stir frying right either so your post is great for me! I’ll be testing this out in a cast iron skillet, right after that seasoning post you mentioned. I recently bought a new one and have no idea how to season it. So a big thank you in advance :)

  • March 13, 2011 at 3:38 am: Violet

    YES cast iron has revolutionized my vegan cooking!!! Even when I make a soup or stew, I brown veggies first in cast iron. As for tofu, this may sound odd for Asian cuisine but I brown it in a very light, flavorless olive oil. Olive oil seems to create the crispiest crust, especially if you turn the tofu repeatedly. For flavor, I sprinkle dry spice on the tofu as it’s browning (cayenne, curry, garam masala, Chinese 5 spice powder, or whatever), then sprinkle with shoyu and fresh lemon juice once tofu and veggies are on the plate. Or I make a sauce. My favorite: simmer spring water with chopped garlic, any kind of chopped hot pepper, and grated ginger; turn off heat and whisk in tomato paste, sweet white miso, and a little agave nectar or some other sweetener. Any veggie will do, but chopped sweet potatoes and purple cabbage are especially gorgeous. And don’t forget fresh okra — it’s fabulous browned in cast iron.

  • March 13, 2011 at 4:12 am: Violet

    Several folks are eager for seasoning tips so I’ll share my experience. When Google-ing for instructions, include the word chemist or chemistry in your search. I tried many unsuccessful methods before finding web advice from a chemist who said you need to get the heat up to at least 500 or the oil won’t turn into the hard, glassy surface you’re looking for. Lower temperatures create a gummy mess. So — diaper the smoke detector with a plastic bag and open all your windows. Clean the pan and dry it thoroughly by warming to about 200 degrees. Coat the inside with a flavorless oil (organic please). Turn it upside down in the oven, carefully placing aluminum foil underneath to catch drips. Crank up the heat to at least 500 for at least 30 min. Turn off the heat, letting the pan cool as the oven cools. Some people do this repeatedly. I didn’t need to. Vegan cooking is great for cast iron, just wipe out with a paper towel and rub with a little more oil as needed (or scrub with oil mixed with salt if something adheres). NEVER put anything acidic like tomatoes or lemon juice into a seasoned pan. YES this will completely change your life…you will feel nothing but sorrow for those still using nonstick pans……..

    • March 13, 2011 at 5:29 am: IsaChandra

      Thanks for your input! My method is a bit different, and I never use a paper towel to wipe out the pan because it leaves little paper specks. A kitchen towel works better. I also think it’s fine to use tomatoes, so long as you don’t let them sit in there for too long. That’s been my experience anyway!

  • March 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm: Violet

    Thanks IsaChandra….I’ll check out the kitchen towel method, and won’t be so shy of tomatoes in the future. Thanks also for your wonderful website. Sooo profoundly grateful for kindred kitchen spirits!

  • March 14, 2011 at 2:21 am: Courtney Melzer

    This recipe rocked my world tonight! Thank you!

  • March 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm: jess

    Made this last night when I had some company over for dinner. Loved it! Definitely going to continue cooking my broccoli with this method. (had some problems with tofu sticking too much, though) Thanks again!!!

  • March 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm: superdave

    This was awesome. Mixed it up a bit used cashews. Regular onion and green pepper. Bad thing was when the red pepper, ginger was mixed with the oil it created a cloud of home made mace. I got it right into the lungs. Oh how punk rock. The rest of the family got hit a few minutes later. Been about 15 minutes now and we are much better. Stir fry is totally the best thing I have eaten in forever.

  • March 17, 2011 at 2:52 am: Jennifer M.

    Wow!! This looks amazing. I will be trying this soon! I would not have thought to put avocado and peanuts together, but now I can’t believe I’ve never tried it. Nom nom!

  • March 17, 2011 at 11:43 pm: Alyssa P.

    We made this tonight for dinner and it is seriously the best stir fry recipe I’ve ever made. My husband kept saying that it tasted like it was made in a restaurant and that it was “everything a stir fry should be.” The avocado, peanuts, and basil really take it to the next level, too. Thanks for this killer recipe, Isa!!

  • March 18, 2011 at 1:43 am: Caryn

    Can’t wait to try this–am making a shopping list right now. I’m loving the purple chopsticks in the photo!

  • March 18, 2011 at 5:06 am: SC

    Isa you are amazing. We had this for dinner and it’s absolutely awwwwesome!!

  • March 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm: Karen

    i had the same problem with the tofu sticking to the pan/veg over steaming when the noodles were added… i have started doing it all separately and get much better results – and an even distribution of the ingredients !!

  • March 22, 2011 at 3:50 am: danielle

    loved it! thanks for sharing! realized a little too late that i didn’t have peanut oil so used sesame oil instead. it seemed to work out. :-)

  • April 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm: john

    This was excellent. I find your Asian influenced dishes are my favorites. A new cookbook along these lines? Maybe…

  • April 7, 2011 at 2:45 am: Angela

    This dish was amazing! It was super easy, and my apartment has never smelled better. Thank you!!!!

  • April 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm: Aivia

    I recently purchased a cast iron wok. I am a cast iron convert and I have been for years– skillets big and small, griddles, you name it, Ive got it. Ive even got a cast iron muffin tin. But the cast iron wok has revolutionized my cooking, since I seasoned it, Ive been using it almost every day.
    I finally used it to make a stir fry not too dissimilar to the one you’ve created here. The main idea I brought away from this recipe was to stir fry every vegetable individually. I made a fabulous curry but stir frying the veg separately, and cooking the sauce in a sauce pan, adding the coconut curry sauce in the bowl, rather than the pan. it was fabulous.
    Ive seen this method called for (especially in lots of classical European cuisines, think Julia Child’s Bourgignon, which I’ve adapted to a vegan diet on numerous occasions, and Italian recipes for things like Ratatouille) but never bought into it, seeing it as extra unnecessary work…But now Ive see the light! Ive been converted! mushrooms CAN be crowded, you’ve got to give them room! And besides that, every vegetable in a stir fry, cooked to perfection, perfectly singed yet crispy broccoli, perfectly crusty tofu? its been impossible for me, as I was never “able to make a stir-fry like a Cantonse chef.” This method really works, take it from me! one veggie at a time= no room for failure or brown mushy veg. Hooray!

    • April 7, 2011 at 9:01 pm: IsaChandra

      Totally. Huzzah!

  • April 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm: meg

    Why do the stir-fry ingredients say peanut oil but the recipe text says olive oil? Which one is it??

    • April 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm: IsaChandra

      It’s peanut oil, but I’m too lazy to change it. Really, you can use any oil.

  • April 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm: Teresa

    Can I use a non stick pan? I have one of those horrible glass top stoves and you cannot use cast iron on them. I miss my gas stove!

    • April 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm: IsaChandra

      If you must!

  • May 2, 2011 at 11:14 pm: Teresa

    My ceramic non stick skillet did work and this is now a favorite recipe of mine! The tofu cooked up and was so pretty I will have to send a picture! (yeah – I actually took a picture) You are a genius! I never would have thought to put avocados and basil in a stir fry but it really does make all the difference. This was seriously awesome food people- make it asap!! and do not forget the Sriracha!!!!

  • May 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm: JIllian

    I made this for my parents last night. It was delicious. We didn’t have broccoli or mirin so I used asparagus and sesame seed oil instead. It turned out fantastic. Thank you so much for this recipe.

  • May 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm: Sabrina

    Is there another substitute for agave that I can use?

    • May 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm: IsaChandra

      You can use half the amount of sugar, just make sure to get it dissolved.

  • May 12, 2011 at 2:45 am: Kathryn

    This looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it… however, unless I’m mistaken, sriracha has fish paste in it right?? Like as a main ingredient.

    • May 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm: IsaChandra

      Nope, it doesn’t.

  • May 25, 2011 at 9:40 am: Monique

    This looks really good – I’m going to try making it tonight, though I’m not sure how it will turn out as the only frypan I own is stainless. Fingers crossed :)

  • June 13, 2011 at 2:37 am: Nolan

    I’ve made this at least 5 times since you posted it. Love to add a serrano pepper and double the broccoli. Thanks so much!

  • June 30, 2011 at 10:15 pm: Rafi

    Holy CRAP this was good. Thank you!

  • July 6, 2011 at 9:54 pm: D F

    ‘Sees recipes, licks kips’

  • August 14, 2011 at 6:43 pm: Siren

    Desperate for that cast iron seasoning recipe from you IsaChandra! Just bought one and really want to use it for all your incredible recipes but not sure how to begin. Please post it up for all us vegans ready to give up the wok for cast iron country!

  • September 27, 2011 at 6:01 am: James H

    This is probably my favourite stir fry! Absolutely love it. And the avocado and peanuts set it off wonderfully

    (though I find it serves more like 2-3; with 4, everyone’s portions seem quite scant).

    And instructions for seasoning a cast-iron would be marvelous! Hopefully coming soon? :P

  • October 1, 2011 at 9:37 pm: Melissa

    Dang. I always use a giant cast iron fry pan for my stir-fries and curries (and just about everything else) but last night, on a whim and because it was 1/2 off on clearance, I bought a little wok-type sautee pan. I hope I didn’t just waste my cash. :) I think it will be good for making tempura and fritters and such, actually. We’ll see. @Terry, my cast iron enamel Dutch oven (the most recent one of several I’ve owned over the years—I’ve broken the lid on one and accidentally charred another) is my other favorite pot. I basically use an 8″ cast iron fry pan, the giant one (12″ maybe?) the Dutch oven, and my ancient (24 years) Revere wear sauce pans that I think my mom gave me as a wedding present for everything.

  • October 10, 2011 at 8:59 pm: victoria

    Avocado, Basil and Peanut Tofu recipe

  • November 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm: Craij

    I have made this so many times I no longer need the recipe. It is now a semi-weekly standard, thank you!
    Sometimes, we use tempeh instead of tofu… equally delicious.

    @James H
    Get some fresh flaxseed oil. Rub it into your new, clean cast iron with your hands. Then, rub it all off with a clean cotton cloth. Then set your oven to 450 to 500 degrees, place your pan in there to preheat with the oven, setting the pan upside-down. After your oven reaches high temperature, set your timer for one hour. After baking for 1 hour, turn oven off and allow your pan to cool in there for 2 hours. Repeat 5 or 6 times. Seems excessive but you’ll be glad you did!

  • November 22, 2011 at 10:35 pm: Eline

    Thank you for an absolutely wonderful recipe! For the first time my tofu got nice and crisp, even after I added the sauce! Often my stirfries end up being to wet and not really stirfry-like. But this time I managed to follow the recipe (only made some more sauce :) ), and the result was gorgeous!

    • November 23, 2011 at 3:14 am: IsaChandra

      Yay! That’s what I like to hear.

  • December 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm: mp

    OMG! Finally a great stirfry recipe ! I’ve experimented with So many over the years, only to come out soggy, too salty, too fishy (if using fish sauce). This recipe rocks! The Basil, avocado, peanut topping was the perfect touch. This will be in regular rotation!

  • December 9, 2011 at 10:56 pm: Lulu

    THank you. THe tofu and the veggies were yummy. The tofu stayed crispy. Two eight year olds devoured it. I should have made more.

  • April 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm: cooking

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  • May 9, 2012 at 10:25 pm: Stacey

    Hi Isa–

    We generally only cook with non-stick pans/pots. I am curious about purchasing a cast iron wok. Some descriptions say ‘lightweight’–would those cook as well? Or, is it better to stick to a heavier version? Thanks.

  • May 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm: Stacey

    OK–after doing some research, it seems a large cast iron pan would work better than a wok. So, I may have answered my own question. ;-)

  • June 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm: leah

    You have revived the stir-fry for me!! I had pretty much given up on them because they never turned out how I wanted. What a great idea to ditch the wok for the cast iron. Thanks!!

  • November 11, 2012 at 12:55 am: Anya

    I’ve been looking for a good stir fry recipe for a while now. This one hit the spot. Thanks!

  • January 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm: lavon

    sub for tofu?

    • January 23, 2013 at 12:32 am: IsaChandra


  • January 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm: Jenny Braun

    you can remove excess food and oil with a damp sponge and 1/2 cup of coarse salt:)

  • January 23, 2013 at 2:24 am: Deb

    I have a cast iron wok, it’s fantastic! So best of both worlds. Will definitely be trying this

  • February 8, 2013 at 5:44 pm: Melanie

    Cooking at high heat is terrifying :-P I cooked it at a 4 on my stove, and still had all the windows and doors open and the fan on to be safe. I also turned the heat down for the sauce- it was threatening to burn/spraying soy sauce everywhere.
    Came out great, though :-) Thanks

  • March 14, 2013 at 4:25 am: Matt

    This dish is amazing! I simplified it (perhaps a bit too much!) by switching out the sauce ingredients for basically just tamari and agave. I can tell from this that the flavors the sauce would add would definitely make a huge difference in this dish, though my version is still unbelievably good. The avocado is an unexpected and perfect pairing. Fucking delicious.

  • August 5, 2014 at 5:03 am: Cait

    WHOA this was good. I found this recipe because I had a ton of basil to use up, and it sounded different from my usual stir fry. My meat and potatoes boyfriend said “If you made this again I would eat it,” which is actually pretty high praise from him. Especially since he repeated it about 8 times.

    DO NOT SKIP THE AVOCADO. The taste and temp and texture is just the best.

  • August 19, 2014 at 7:23 pm: Emily

    I just made this, and it’s delicious! I was a little like “um… avocado in my stir-fry??” but I’ve learned by now to trust you, and I’m glad I did! Awesome!