Farmers market improvisation: Stir-Fried Chicken, Asparagus, Green Garlic and Tomatoes

by Terry B on June 16, 2010

Chicken teams up with green garlic and asparagus from the farmers market and ginger, lemongrass and other ingredients gathered from the fridge and pantry to make a quick, delicious stir-fry. Recipe below.


A friend of ours refuses to eat leftovers. She calls them “used food.” Marion and I, on the other hand, feel wonderfully satisfied and even a little smug when every last morsel of something is consumed. Whether it’s a leftover that becomes a lunch or gets repurposed as part of another dinner, or it’s a last lonely shallot that livens up a salad dressing, not wasting food—or at least trying not to waste it—is just part of our working class childhood DNA. That instinct led to the creation of this lovely dish Marion recently cooked. I’ll let her tell you about it.

green-garlicOne of the great joys of late spring is when local farmers markets get back into action, with their ever-changing bounty. That’s also one of the pitfalls of this time of year. Armed with good culinary intentions and eyes bigger than your stomach, it’s easy to get carried away. The other day, our neighborhood farmer’s market opened for the season and we came home all flushed and excited, toting plenty—especially, green garlic and asparagus.

Food writers and home cooks alike tell us that well-stocked pantries and fridges are great tools for everyday cooking. They also guarantee that at any given time, you’ve got various ingredients getting dangerously close to their expiration dates. Trying to figure out how to use the green garlic and asparagus, I thought of a couple of flavors I wanted to  use, and then saw a couple of things lurking around that needed to be cooked, like, now.

Exuberance plus desperation: This could have gone horribly wrong. But it came out pretty good.

Stir-Fried Chicken with Asparagus, Green Garlic and Tomatoes
Serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, sliced into bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons minced green garlic (about two, see Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon tender part of lemongrass, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled, smashed, minced fine
12 ounces fresh tomato, coarsely chopped
2/3 pound asparagus, cut into pieces about 1-1/2 inches long (see Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 or 3 tablespoons fresh basil, coarsely chopped or torn

cooked white rice

Heat the oil  in a wok or a large nonstick skillet. When the oil is hot, add the 1/2 cup green garlic, lemongrass, and ginger, and stir-fry for four or five minutes.

Add the chicken and stir-fry about five more minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and starting to brown.

Add the tomatoes, pepper and soy sauce and continue to stir-fry about two minutes. Then add the asparagus pieces and stir some more. The pan shouldn’t be completely dry–there should be a small amount of liquid in the pan, from the tomatoes. That’s okay. Stir-fry the entire dish for two or three more minutes, until the asparagus is just al dente.

Add the fresh basil, stir, and serve over rice, garnishing with the remaining green garlic.

Cooking the rice. Timingwise, after you’ve done your prepwork, start cooking the white rice. As soon as you cover the rice on the stovetop, start cooking the chicken and both will be ready at about the same time.

Kitchen Notes

Green garlic. Cut off the root end and discard it; slice and mince the rest of the plant. If the central, stalky part feels woody, then don’t use that. Green garlic has a very short season—if you can’t find it, substitute a little minced garlic and maybe some scallion. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will be good.

Asparagus. To prepare it for cooking, bend the end of the stalk until the woody end snaps off. Discard the woody end (by discard, we mean put it in your compost pile).

Tomatoes. For this dish, discard the stem core, but use the rest of the tomato—skin, seeds, everything.

Basil. If you have fresh Thai basil, uses that, but any fresh basil will be marvelous in this dish. We snipped bits from all our fairly young garden plants (in our brave tiny garden) for this.


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne June 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I actually love eating leftovers. Which is a good thing because cooking for one means that leftovers are inevitable! I love this stir fry…a great way to use up some of the season’s best produce before it goes rancid in your fridge!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) June 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm

These are my favorite type of improvisations — the virtues of having a good pantry! — and to make something wonderful AND have leftovers is as good as it gets.

Randi June 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm

I have terrible guilt if I have to throw out food. Leftovers can be easy to hide with a little imagination. Couldn’t find any Thai basil for my garden this year. :( Must be getting popular.

Marion June 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Joanne—I know! We sometimes feel cheated when there aren’t any leftovers from a meal.

Thanks, Lydia! If anyone knows the value of a well-stocked pantry, it would be you.

Honestly, Randi, plain old everyday basil is wonderful enough in its own right that you’ll be fine just using it.

Laura [What I Like] June 16, 2010 at 7:51 pm

I couldn’t agree more about the satisfaction of rescuing on the verge items in the refrigerator from sure decomposition in the compost pile! In the name of frugality I’ve thrown together quite a few things over the years that have been decidedly un-blog-worthy…how wonderful that your undertaking turned out so beautifully! I’ll have to give it a try…green garlic seems to have just appeared in the market…

Melissa June 17, 2010 at 2:07 am

I know what you mean Marion, when cleaning out the fridge that a dish can go horribly wrong or you can’t wait to make it again. Your chicken stir fry sounds so much better than the awful one that I made the other day. And I had to choke down the leftovers that didn’t get any better for lunch the next day. I couldn’t make myself throw it away. It was edible (barely!)

Marion June 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Laura, yes, there have been, um, unfortunate incidents… “un-blog-worthy” would flatter them.

Melissa, this is so funny, when I first read your comment I thought you said “edible (barley)”–the edibility of barley being a contentious topic at our house.

Nahtay Rome June 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm

I for sure want this left over, this seems like something that would be awesome to each the next day after every spice has set together. Will have to try this weekend, we get our first CSA today so we will have plenty of veggies.

Maytina June 18, 2010 at 2:14 am

‘Used food’! Haha. I always eat the leftovers, so many things are just better the second day – like stew! Or mashed potatoes, I make extra just so I can make potato pancakes or fish cakes the next day.

Dani H June 18, 2010 at 4:28 am

This sounds delicious. I rarely cook a single serving of anything. Having leftovers saves time, money and energy and really can be better. Thanks for another lovely recipe, Marion. I hope you and Terry are having a good summer.

Marion June 21, 2010 at 3:30 am

Nahtay Rome, I hope you do try this!

Maytina, so many things do improve overnight. Yesterday I made a new-to-us potato salad, which was yummy, but by lunch today, the leftovers were just super.

Dani, we completely agree. And thanks, we are having a wonderful summer so far, and hope you are too!

Chef Dad June 26, 2010 at 2:09 am

I remember my father howling, “The garbage can eats better than we do!” Obviously, that was before we recovered the joys of composting. But, I feel the old man glaring at me if something goes bad. So, we have gotten very good about “going shopping” in the fridge, pantry and garden before deciding on dinner. Stir fry is a wonderful way to use things and the sauce spices up otherwise straightforward fare so it feels special.

Terry B June 26, 2010 at 2:24 am

What a wonderfully dadly thing for your dad to say, Chef Dad! Sounds like he taught you a great lesson.

Ed Schenk June 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm

To be able to create a dish around a trip to the Farmers market is a special experience!

Mee June 30, 2010 at 4:49 am

I absolutely love the farmer’s market! I’m not a big fan of leftovers but leftover stir-fries makes great fried rice.

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