How to Build the Perfect Stir Fry

For those of you who follow us on IG, you probably heard me talking about writing this post a month (or two?) ago. I’m slow, I know. But hey, the holidays happened, so that’s my excuse. 🙂 Anyway, I wanted to talk about one of my favorite subjects with you today: STIR FRY. Oh yes! I am an avid stir fry lover. It’s quick, easy, healthy, delicious, and can use up leftovers like no one’s business. In a few words, it’s the perfect dish.

What I really wanted to discuss today is the anatomy of a perfect stir fry, along with a few tips for success. I will be sharing some specific recipes you can follow along with if you want. But like I said, one thing I love about stir fry is you can easily change it up based on what you have on hand, or what your body needs, etc. There are probably infinite possibilities when it comes to stir fry, so let’s discuss the basic components. I really wanted to make an acronym out of these letters, but I couldn’t figure out a word that made much sense. Boo! Oh well, here are the building blocks of a perfect stir fry:

Grains – Rice, quinoa, noodles, cauliflower rice (if you want to go grain-free)
Protein – Tempeh, baked tofu, eggs, shrimp, chicken (lots of plant-based options or meat)
Vegetables – Bell peppers, broccoli, onion, cabbage, zucchini, etc., or you can add some fruit
Flavor – Garlic, ginger, green onion, fresh herbs
Sauce – Keep it simple with just soy sauce or Braggs liquid aminos, or you can really do it up
Crunch – Cashews, sesame seeds, peanuts, etc.

And as you can see by the little stir fry food pyramid I’ve made to illustrate, you want to keep the ratios of these components relative to each other. But feel free to break the rules from time to time if you like. 🙂

Let’s talk a little more about grains for a second. If you are using rice or quinoa, I recommend making your grains the day before (or longer) so they can dry out a little before you stir fry. You don’t want super wet grains going into your stir fry as the added water can make things soggy. Other than that, don’t be afraid to try new things here. I LOVE trying different kinds of rice and noodles as it can greatly change the overall flavor and texture as well as the health benefits.

A few things to try: stir fry breakfast quinoa and wild rice/sweet and spicy soba noodles 

If you want to keep your meal grain-free or you’re looking to get some more vegetables into your day, I seriously LOVE cauliflower rice. Just pulse cauliflower in a food processor until it resembles rice (see photo above). Then lay it out on a paper towel in a thin layer, press another paper towel over the top to remove excess moisture and you’re good to go!

Getting a little protein power in your meal is obviously important for health as well as making you feel full. I usually keep things plant-based, but I make exceptions—mostly for eggs and seafood. But there are tons of options here, so it’s really up to you and your preferences. Probably the protein I add most often is baked tofu or air fried tofu. Love that in both stir fries and curry dishes. Yum!

Stir fry is such a great dish if you are looking to eat a lot of vegetables—it’s so easy to pile them on here! And as I kind of showcased up top, you can add fruit here as well to add a little (natural) sweetness. One of my all-time favorite meals is pineapple fried rice, and I also love this red cabbage stir fry.

Now let’s talk sauce. This is where you can add a LOT of flavor, or keep it simple and just lightly season everything. I personally love both and when I’m just throwing things together on a busy weeknight, I tend to keep it simple with just soy sauce and some red pepper flakes. But if you’re looking for something more, I highly recommend the sauce from this cashew cauliflower dish, as well as this honey and miso stir fry (it’s similar to sweet and sour sauce).

The crunch is a bit controversial at our house. Basically, Trey doesn’t love nuts on his stir fry while I EMPHATICALLY do. Ha! Marriage is fun like that. 🙂 So again, this is customizable and totally up to you and your preferences, but I love to add a few chopped cashews or some toasted sesame seeds to my final stir fry dish. I love the look as well as the crunch, plus maybe it adds a tiny bit more protein? (Probably not a enough to really matter, but still.)

I would LOVE to hear about your favorite stir fry combinations or tips. I seriously make variations of this all the time, so always love to hear more ideas! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with ACS for Desktop actions.
  • How do you cook the egg? I know this might sound stupid, but whenever I’ve tried to add egg to a stir-fry or egg fried rice, it never goes into the nice strands that you get from the Chinese. Instead it just kind of coats everything and isn’t very nice. Any suggestions on how to fix this?

  • Thanks for the reminder of stir fry. I grew up with an Asian mom who stir fries amazingly. Perfect flavor blend, but she did just basically use one recipe, and so I view it as needing to be a perfect recipe. Strange since I am an experimenter not bound to recipes with all other foods. Stir fry would WOULDbe the perfect way to use up leftovers. I like soy sauce, but one day growing up realized how much sodium is involved. Crazy. I don’t like the taste of low sodium soy sauce. Any suggestions on good tasting, healthy soy sauce? I did kind of pull away from non predigested soy (Miso) as well. Sesame seed oil is my go to flavor enhancer. So tasty! It’s great on a broccoli slaw as well! I want to try other obscure oils as well, but need to look up their heating points… pumpkin seed, etc.

  • I love you sharing this post because stir-fry is something most of us love, it suppose to be simple but its so easy to get it wrong. Think its because all the ingredient have to be put in in the right order. Otherwise you get one soggy, one to crunchy etc.
    So thanks for sharing all these great tips!

  • OMG How does Trey not like nuts in his stir fry?! That is probably one of my favorite parts! I always start my stir fry by heating up just a little bit of sesame oil in a pan and toasting either peanuts or cashews just so they darken a little and set them aside until the end. Also, if I even need to use any type of oil when making stir fry I use sesame oil. The flavor is amazing and makes everything better.

  • This post was inspiring to me, Emma! After reading it I had to try the cauliflower rice and it was so nice and diffrent in a good way! I love trying new and easy meals ideas. Thanks ????

  • I love the stir fry ,all the recipes look delicious

  • these dishes look absolutely delicious! I’ve never given too much importance or attention to stir fry but I’ll give to it a second chance!

  • I’ve never been a huge stir fry fan, I’m one of those “gotta keep em separated” plate people.. but this visual makes me 400% more interested in mixing all the foods together. Thanks, Emma!

  • I love to cook stir fry but I always struggle; what goes in it and how to build it !

    Thanks for the lovely chart 🙂

    Simple N Chic

  • Love this chart, it’s so easy to build different stir fries with it!

  • WOW! Amazing post! I’ve been looking for something like this for solo so long. My traditional cuisine has nothing to do with stir fry but I love it so much but never know how to prepare and what to put in it so this is literally my favourite blog post for today and I’m saving it for later to actually use your tips. Thank you so much – so practical! <3

    With kindness

  • This is a really new and interesting approach to stir fry dishes, and those look extremely delicious!! Love your ideas and your food-related posts in general. <3

    Joanne | With Risa: A Lifestyle Blog

  • Hey guys, long time fan over here. Just wanted to ask if you’ve increased the number of ads on the blog lately? I had to scroll past 4 just in the blog post and it really put me off. I know it’s unwarranted but just sharing my thoughts.

    • Hi Michelle! We actually decreased our ads in December. We currently have the same number on the mobile view that we’ve had for years and 30% less on desktop.

      We always appreciate every readers perspective because we truly want our site to be enjoyable to read. So we’re always looking to balance keeping our business healthy alongside keeping the experience on our blog positive. <3

  • Really great visual ways of separating the ingredients, very helpful for beginners! I make stir frys almost every day for dinner – they’re so nutritious and healthy. 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • Love this and all the interesting combinations
    I build mine with a majority of vegetables (would be base of pyramid) grains etc 2 or 3 steps up !! Cheers

  • Pinning this! I have never made a stir fry for fear of getting it wrong and having to eat a big mess, but you make it look so easy and good:-)

  • I like adding bean sprouts to my stir fry. If you don’t overcook them, they still lend a crunch factor and you’ll get more veggies in!

  • I love this post because other than tacos, stir fry is my favorite food for dinner. Sometimes I use brown rice or whole wheat noodles, but mainly I focus on the key ingredients. My favorite combo is bell peppers, onions (yellow and green), pineapple, zucchini and peapods, with chicken and cashews. I’m looking forward to trying your sauces!

  • I rarely venture from the stir fry recipe my mom taught me. (I do add pineapple and water chestnuts now though. Yum!) But since switching to keto these are some delicious looking alternatives!

    One tip my mom taught me was that when you add the egg, make a whole in the middle of the pan to nest the egg as it cooks. That way it won’t get ‘gummy’. (Mom’s are so smart!) 🙂

  • I’ve been making a lot of stir fried dishes with veggie noodles lately! I also LOVE the Trader Joe’s broccoli slaw for stir fry–it’s shredded broccoli (stems) and carrots and makes adding more veggies to a dish so easy!

  • This is so interesting, I will have to apply these tips next time I make stir fry! Thanks for sharing <3

  • Love this post and the use of the food pyramid style for a great stir fry. Great for visual learners like me 🙂

    P.S. Just want to say that I do hope you run with your “So You Think You Can Stir Fry” title for a future project. This post reminded me of that, it really is catchy and fun!

    • Ha! Oh yes, that’s my (fake) food network show that I’m pitching. 🙂

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