Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Veggie Fried Rice

I have a deep dark culinary secret. It's something I'm really ashamed of, so don't laugh when I tell you...I'm terrible at making rice.

I know, I know, it's ironic in an Alanis Morissette way that I have a cooking blog and yet I'm bad at making rice, one of the most basic things you can do in the kitchen right along with boiling an egg.  But the fact remains, I'm just not successful in the rice department. Either I undercook the rice and it turns out soggy and hard, or I overcook it and end up with a layer of charcoal in the bottom of my pan. Sometimes I manage to do both at the same time.

You might be wondering why, then, I decided to make fried rice, which involves both making regular rice and then the more difficult task of stir-frying it. Well, the answer it pretty basic: I was hungry, and the ingredients I had on hand lent themselves to fried rice.
After doing some reading on the subject, I found the key is having cold--and better yet old-- rice for this dish.  When carbohydrates such as rice and bread are refrigerated (like, say, that leftover take-out rice in your fridge), they become stale even more rapidly than when left sitting on the counter. And for our purposes, cold, stale rice is just what we want.  Think about how moist and sticky rice is when it's fresh off the stove-- and then think about plopping that pile of steaming starch into a saute pan. In case you aren't picturing what I'm picturing, the result would be chaos. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.  Or, in less dramatic terms, the rice would be glued to your pan.  Cold rice, though, will break up into little grains you can evenly coat with oil and that will get a nice crispy toasting.

The other ingredients that you put into this can be determined purely based on your tastes and what's in your kitchen.  I had a number of these things on hand, so voila, here they are in my fried rice recipe.  I liked the combination of the savory, umami flavor of the mushrooms and the crispness of the hard veggies.  This is a perfect dish to try experimenting with different flavor combinations.  And although I only used veggies, feel free to add some meat to this. It will be easiest, though, if you use something pre-cooked, like last night's pork roast. All roads lead back to leftovers.

Veggie Fried Rice
8oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb asparagus, diced
3 baby peppers, or 1 bell pepper, red, yellow, or orange, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, diced
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups cooked rice, cooled
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Asian chile paste, e.g. Sambal Oelek

Start by making your rice. If, like me, you have some old rice in the fridge, make as much additional rice as you need to end up with about 4 cups cooked rice. Spread any fresh rice out on a plate and place in the refrigerator uncovered to cool.

Wipe down and slice your mushrooms. Heat a large saute pan with a dash of EVOO over medium heat and add your mushrooms. While your mushrooms cook, dice the asparagus, carrot, and peppers into equivalent size pieces, all about 1/2 an inch.  Having evenly sized pieces will ensure even cooking.  Since I had little baby peppers on hand, I cut mine into rings because that seemed jazzy. But if you are using a bell pepper, just dice it up like normal.

When the mushrooms have just started to release their liquids, transfer them to another plate and set aside.

Put the skillet back over medium heat and add another dash of oil.  Add the diced veggies, season with salt, and cook 2-3 minutes until they have just started to soften but are still crisp. Add to the plate with the mushrooms (or a different plate, just trying to save you dishes), and set aside.

Return the skillet to the heat again and add your two eggs, beaten like you are going to scramble them.  As soon as you add them to the pan, start moving them around and breaking them up with your spatula.

If some bits stick to the pan, that's ok, we'll get them up in the next step. Once the eggs are cooked-- you guessed it!-- set aside with the veggies.

Put your skillet back on the heat one last time. Add another dash of oil to coat the pan and add your minced ginger, the whites of the green onions, and the grated ginger. (Save the greens of the onions!) Cook for about 30 seconds just til things start to become fragrant, and then add all your rice to the pan.  Move the rice around to coat with the oil so it start to get crispy and toasty.  Look at my rice doing beautiful things.

If the rice starts to stick terribly to the pan, add a little more oil-- it's ok, it's called fried rice.  Keep cooking your rice for about 5 minutes or until it's a lovely golden color.  Then add the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and chili paste, scraping up any bits off the bottom that are released by the liquids.

Add back in all the other ingredients you already cooked and give everything a good stir.  Finish by adding the scallion greens.

Boom shaka laka, you just made fried rice! And you can feel way better about it than if you got take-out.


And one more glamor shot for the road...

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