This Coconut Oil Veggie Stir Fry hits the dinner table just about every week in my house. It’s usually around Thursday when the work week starts to get the best of me and my enthusiasm for cooking anything more complex has waned. It’s a super simple meal that’s pretty darn fool-proof and packs a nutritional punch, even when time is short.
Apart from choosing an assortment of fresh, organic vegetables, the secret to making an ultra nutritious (and delicious) stir fry lies in the oils used. The combination that I find provides a broad spectrum of health benefits and the best flavor is equal parts coconut, olive, and sesame oils…and then a drizzle of flaxseed oil.
In her book, Mother Food: A Breastfeeding Diet Guide with Lactogenic Foods and Herbs, Hilary Jacobson touts the benefit of this particular combination of oils, specifying that the olive oil should be virgin cold-pressed and the sesame oil also cold-pressed. She writes extensively about the benefits of a diet rich in healthy fats, specifically for postpartum and breastfeeding mothers, but really obtaining an adequate amount of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is crucial for kids of all ages…and women…men too…ok, everyone! It’s good for the entire family!
EFAs are fatty acids that our bodies require but cannot produce on their own, and therefore must be ingested. There are two: alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid, or LA, (an omega-6 fatty acid). An adequate intake of EFAs is essential to optimum mental and physical health. They combat inflammation, which is the root of all kinds of disease and illness. They positively impact mood, behavior, and mental function. They facilitate cellular function and oxygenation, too. Studies are beginning to link EFA deficiency to autism, learning disorders, mood disorders, mental illnesses, allergies, and even autoimmune diseases. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers must be particularly diligent about following an EFA-rich diet, as they are the sole source of these essential nutrients for their developing baby.
Coconut oil got a bad rap for a long time because it’s high in saturated fats, but we now understand that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids, which are much more easily broken down and used by the body (read: NOT artery clogging) than long chain fatty acids. In fact, about half of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are lauric acid, which has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Lauric acid is also present in breastmilk. It’s said to support the immune system, and Jacobson advocates that mothers with a suppressed immune system should especially consume coconut oil regularly.
My favorite brand of coconut oil is Dr. Bronner’s. I like their products. I like their ethics. I like their message and what they stand for. Here, you can buy their Fresh-Pressed Virgin Whole Kernel Unrefined Coconut Oil, and their Organic Fresh Pressed White Kernel Virgin Coconut Oil. The whole kernel oil is nuttier and more aromatic than the milder white kernel oil. I’ve used and like both in a veggie stir fry.
Olive oil contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, however, about 10 times as much omega-6s as omega-3s. There’s some debate regarding the ideal ratio of these two, but it’s safe to say that we get plenty of omega-6 in our diet without even trying, so focus on your omega-3 intake. Olive oil is often associated with the Mediterranean diet and gained global popularity for its anti-inflammatory properties and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Jacobson explains these monounsaturated fatty acids “do not compete with EFAs found in nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, grains, legumes or supplements, making olive oil ideal for everyday cooking.” There’s a running joke in my house that every recipe starts with a tablespoon of olive oil and 5 cloves of garlic. Using a combination of oils (as opposed to exclusively olive oil even though it’s the most common cooking oil in this country) along with eating a varied diet, will help even out the omega-6: omega-3 imbalance that tends to happen.
Sesame oil contains omega-3s and -6s, but like olive oil, is much higher in omega-6 fatty acids. It’s comprised of nearly equal parts monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Sesame oil has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound called sesamol, and is also high in vitamin E. It has a high smoke point, making it stable even in high heat and ideal for cooking.
While it’s not great for cooking because it doesn’t tolerate heat well, flaxseed oil is an incredible source of omega-3 fatty acids. For an omega-3 bonus, drizzle a little flaxseed oil over your Coconut Oil Veggie Stir Fry once it’s plated. Flaxseed oil is a galactagogue, a food that can help promote lactation and boost a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply. (You can learn more about galactagogues and get “My Favorite Lactation-Enhancing Recipes“ when you subscribe to the blog.)
Now that we’re all oiled up, let’s get on with the cooking, shall we? 😉
- 1 cup uncooked brown rice*
- 6 ounces teriyaki flavored baked tofu, cubed**
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dr Bronner’s Virgin Coconut Oil
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 heads broccoli, chopped***
- 1 bunch carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 bunch lacinato kale, stems removed and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium teriyaki sauce
- 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce****
- 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
- optional: sesame seeds, chopped scallion, and sriracha hot sauce to garnish
- Rinse, and then cook your grain (brown rice, quinoa, farro, etc.) in either a rice cooker or pot over the stove. The amount of water required and cook times will vary depending on the grain used, but generally I use a 3:1 water to grain ratio. Tip: If you’re in a hurry, quinoa cooks super quickly. Alternatively, there are lots of precooked organic grain packets out there that simply need to heated.
- In a small pan, heat 1 teaspoon each of the coconut, olive, and sesame oils over medium heat until they are melted and glisten. Add the tofu and cook on all sides until golden. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl.
- In a wok or very large fry pan, heat coconut, olive, and sesame oils over medium heat until they glisten. Add the broccoli, and cook for a couple minutes. Then add the carrots, and cook for a few minutes more before mixing in the kale. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and ginger. Cook until the veggies are tender but still have a little snap.
- Mix in the tofu.
- Turn off the heat, and then add the teriyaki and soy sauces.
- Plate the stir fried veggies over cooked rice, finish with a drizzle of flaxseed oil, and garnish.
- *As an alternative to brown rice, you can use quinoa, farro, any other grain you like, or any combination of these.
- **I use Wildwood Organic Sprouted Tofu. If you don’t want to use tofu, you can sub another lean protein.
- ***Sometimes I use bok choy, too.
- ****You can substitute tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for soy sauce, if you prefer.
- You can cook your baby or toddler's stir fry almost exactly as you cook yours. Chop a portion of each of the veggies and tofu smaller, depending on your child's age and handling and chewing abilities. Cook them in 1 teaspoon of each of the cooking oils. To make the veggies more tender, add water as needed and cover with a lid to steam. I add ginger and garlic to my son's, as well, but I leave out the teriyaki and soy sauces to avoid the added sugar and salt. Serve the veggie stir fry with whichever grain you've cooked and drizzle with flaxseed oil.