Monday, June 28, 2010

Simple Broccoli Stir Fry

Well, summer is here. The calendar says so. The weather agrees. Even the type of vegetables riding in my CSA box are admitting the truth. It’s not just leafy greens that grew quickly in the cooler spring weather. Green beans and sugar snap peas have arrived as have a few beets (quickly turned into Beet and Carrot Burgers, so I don’t have to face them for long) and, perhaps best of all, broccoli.
Last year I posted two recipes for broccoli salads (this one and this one), but I know I made a simple broccoli stir fry with Szechuan peppercorns and water chestnuts several times as well. It was time to quantify those ingredients I was just flinging around and share them in the form of a real recipe. It’s very easy to make and has just five ingredients, including the frying oil (I used peanut oil, but you could use whatever neutral-flavored oil you have on hand).

If you’re not familiar with Szechuan peppercorns, they are not at all the same as the black peppercorns you keep in the grinder next to the salt shaker. They are nice and spicy, but they have an additional curious quality to their spice, almost a floral note, and their zip strikes the tongue a bit differently than black pepper, or even chile peppers. I like the way they create a sort of zing down the sides of my tongue (especially the right side, for some reason. Maybe that’s just where I most often chew.) I love these little things, which are more dark brown than black, and look more like little round broken, desiccated seed pods than the tiny dried berries that black pepper resembles. (Sorry, I didn’t get any good photos.) You can get them from Penzeys Spices if you can’t find them anywhere else. I left this stir fry quite simple just to feature their flavor more…oh yeah, and that of the broccoli, too.

This dish is best with fresh broccoli florets and a few of the more tender parts near the top of the stem. The florets soak up the soy sauce and Szechuan peppercorn flavor like little mops. I like to keep them fairly crisp (this is another one of those vegetables I think gets ruined by cooking it too much), which goes well with the irrepressibly crisp water chestnuts. I like to use whole water chestnuts cut in half rather than the sliced ones, because I prefer their chunkiness. You can use sliced water chestnuts if you cannot fine them whole.

Even though this stir fry is best with broccoli florets, don’t just throw away the stems. People are actually making good money on shredded broccoli stems, sold as “broccoli slaw.” You can cash in by not tossing out, especially if you have a food processor with a shredding disk. Hmmm…this sounds suspiciously like a teaser for the next post. See you then!

Szechuan Broccoli and Water Chestnut Stir Fry

2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
12 ounces broccoli florets and tender stems
8 ounce can whole water chestnuts, drained, halved
¼ cup soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)

1. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the Szechuan peppercorns and sizzle them about 15 seconds.

2. Add the broccoli and water chestnuts and stir fry about 5 minutes, or until the broccoli is just beginning to get brown in a few spots.

3. Add the soy sauce and cook about 3 more minutes, stirring frequently. The broccoli will still be quite crisp. Serve with rice.

Makes about 3 main-dish servings (with rice) or 5-6 side dish servings.


  1. Great recipe! Looking at step 2 to step 3, the chestnuts shrunk considerably! You took some great photos here :0)

  2. I have to admit that I didn't notice the water chestnut shrinkage. They did give off some liquid and drank up some of the soy sauce in exchange, which was just yummy. :)