Photo by Nick Paris

When I lived in Orange County, my friends and I would often go to the mall on weekends — if not to shop, then to see a movie or just walk around and get out. More than a few times we would end up eating at the food court, which may not provide the best healthy food you can get, but it still holds so many great memories for me. Many of these include us running through stores hopped up on handfuls of candy that we had bought earlier at the movie theater.

That’s why this week, I tried to recreate one of my favorite food court entrees: vegetable stir-fry. Much to my embarrassment, this week’s recipe comes from Rachael Ray, with whom I feel like I am in constant battle because of her self-deprecating anti-feminism. The recipe is good, and so I find myself at once bowing to her ingenuity and rolling my eyes at her silliness. But I can tell you one thing: this recipe ain’t for the “fellas.” I’m eating it all up myself.

And really, what’s bad about a stir-fry? There are a million ways to make it and almost zero ways to mess it up. It all depends on your taste in vegetables, whether or not you want to bring in noodles, and the amount of red pepper flakes you want to dump on top … in my case, loads.

It’s a really helpful recipe for beginning culinary enthusiasts — a group with which I identify strongly — who have almost no clue what flavorings work well together and how to balance a dish with enough sweet, salty, tangy and bitter to make a delicious meal. For us, vegetable stir fry is the best canvas on which to paint.

With that degree of openness in a dish, there’s also room to mix and match according to diet. Taste aside, if you want to eat gluten-free, cut out the noodles. If you eat meat, add some chicken. If you’re looking to lose weight, use less of everything for a smaller portion size. For me, I cut the eggs to make it vegan. Anything is possible, and you can’t say that about every recipe.

If you’re looking to increase your vegetable intake, and simultaneously your vitamin and nutrient intake, then this is the meal for you. It can also be as inexpensive as you make it. If you only have $5 for the whole week, why not lay down on some veggies and make this recipe last? And versatility makes it a good dish for sharing with friends and roommates.

There are also ways to make this dish really fatty and yummy if that’s what you’re looking for, mainly with more oil and honey and a thicker type of noodle. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking my bikini stomach can just wait.