Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 29, 2013

What’s For Lunch? Make it Quick! + Polynesian Stir-Fry

By Ernest Barteldes

Renata and I occasionally go out to dinner in restaurants (something that has become less frequent except when we are out of town), but we simply don’t buy lunch – instead, we always bring a bagged lunch to work with us. The first reason is pretty basic: it is much more inexpensive to prepare a meal for two at home than to go out and drop at least $6 a day (I’m being conservative here) – a monthly expense of at $ 400 a month if you consider the two of us.


Also, we try to keep things healthy by not using too much oil, fatty meats or anything like that – something that is not exactly easy to find in Midtown Manhattan, where by a twist of fate we both work just a few blocks apart from each other. Sure, here you can find anything from fast food to Irish, Italian and especially (due to our proximity to W32nd St) Korean, but when it comes to really caring about the preparation process, nothing compares with real home-made food.
Thankfully, my personal work schedule allows me to go home during most afternoons, and this gives me time both to write and cook. However, I do my best to make something that won’t be too fussy because I don’t have the same amount of time on my hands that I do on Sundays, when I make more elaborate dishes for what has become our ‘ traditional’ Sunday and movies night.

Eating at home

What I cook depends on what ingredients I have at hand plus whatever I can get at nearby grocery stores. I do avoid processed foods like sausages or things like that, but I don’t mind using frozen vegetables or canned sauces as part of the recipe. Italian dishes are quite common, because most of them are easy to prepare and refrigerate well. I have a stable of ‘regular ‘recipes I make at least once a week, but when opportunity arises I will make something out of the box – the other day I had some leftover pineapple bits, rice and frozen veggies – and that motivated to make a Hawaiian-inspired stir-fry that I had been thinking about quite some time – it is a mix of vegetables, ham, pineapples and sweet and sour sauce that is ready in minutes and that is highly enjoyable.

Polynesian Stir-Fry
Adapted from

For stir-fry

1 (8-ounce) can pineapple tidbits. Reserving juice
1 large onion, sliced
1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces ham steak (or SPAM Lite), cut into strips
4 cups hot, cooked rice
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained

For Sweet and sour sauce

1/3 cup white or rice vinegar
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with ½ cup juice from canned pineapples

Mix the vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce together and bring to a boil in a small pot. Mix together the cornstarch and water and reserve. Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Add water to juice to make 1 cup. In large skillet, sauté onion and bell pepper in oil over medium heat, stirring constantly, 4 minutes. Add ham or SPAM and water chestnuts; cook 1 minute longer. Add sweet-and-sour mixture and pineapple; bring to a boil. Continue stirring until thickened. Serve stir-fry over hot rice.

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