The secret is timing and ingredients and sauce.
A common mistake is over cooking the vegetables. Different veggies cook faster or slower than others, so if you put everything all at once, you have a big mess, e.g. Undercooked zucchini and over cooked snow peas, very tough meat. To combat this, try some or all of these.
- Prepare everything in advance. All your vegetables should be chopped and ready to go in. Any sauces are premixed and ready to add at the right time. Try to cut your vegetables about the same size so they cook at the same rate (think of a thick carrot vs. a thin carrot, they’ll cook through at very different times)
- Cook one ingredient at a time, remove, and cook the next. Add them all in at the end and stir it up. If you have meat or fish, this is extremely useful.
- Stir fry sauces rarely require much cooking. Add them at the end and toss, and then take the food out of the pan or wok.
- Don’t crowd the vegetables. If your zucchini is piled up, it cannot access the hot surface and won’t cook, while the stuff on the bottom will soak up all the oil and taste gross. Again, this can be an advantage to using point 2.
Many cooks would disagree with point 2, myself included now. This is a good way to learn how long it takes to cook your onions, garlic, carrots, bean sprouts, etc. Once you get a feel for that you will know that the peppers are 3/4 done, so it is time to add the snow peas, and bean sprouts go in just at the end to slightly wilt.
One of the best cooking training courses I took was knife skills. Better knife control and awareness makes a massive difference in point 1. It was like having someone show me how to swim instead of trying to figure it out for myself by watching the Olympics.
Finally, you might need to adjust your taste or your recipe. Many restaurant stir fries will add salt, msg, and sugar. Your heart-healthy recipes will avoid these ingredients. To train your taste, cut the ‘tasty’ amounts in half, then cut them in half again after a while, or find substitutes. Good soy sauce (the expensive kind) replaces salt, vinegar can replace some sugar, mushrooms and beef can replace msg.
Good luck, and don’t give up. Cooking well for yourself and others can be a very emotionally rewarding thing, and certainly opens up many opportunities for improved health.