The onion, that is – when stir-frying. I grew up learning to cook from my parents, who largely cooked along the lines of classical European – where the onion is almost always sauteed at the beginning of cooking to soften it. Sure, we ate Asian-inspired stir-fries at home, but following the way mum made them, I would still cook off the onions and garlic first. Wrong! It wasn’t really till I did my first Thai cooking course some years ago that I clicked that a great stir-fry is one where all the vegetables pretty much get cooked for the same, short, amount of time. Including the onion. The garlic, yes, is cooked off first, along with any spice pastes you might be using. But you want the onion to stay semi-crisp and only just starting to show any sign of softening at the edges – a few minutes cooking at the most, usually.
So when I prep for stir-fries, I do it how I learned in Thailand: trimming and chopping all the vegetables and placing them on a plate to be thrown into the wok in one go. This how Thais prepare all their ingredients – the prepping of everything happens first, usually at the dining table (sitting, nice and relaxed, not to-ing and fro-ing at the bench) – and then the cooking part happens smoothly and quickly, usually over high heat (and often outside, in places blessed with less rainfall than us).