As you've probably already surmised if you read this blog with any regularity, I almost always cook from a recipe. I am a planner, and often a hyper-compulsive one at that, so I usually find it difficult to head into the supper hour with no plan at all besides the odds and ends found in the fridge.
But every so often I get the urge to improvise in the kitchen. It happened last Wednesday when I was faced with the prospect of the final bean salad in Deborah Madison's book. It was about 8:00 at night and I just couldn't make and eat another bean salad all by myself. Instead, I turned to the large container of leftover brown rice that was sitting in the fridge. I decided to make fried rice.
When I was on exchange in New Orleans in my undergrad, I ended up making a lot of fried rice. I was living in a two-person apartment in an musty, dour residence, and my roommate Mary was frequently away (On a side note, Mary was vegan but seemed to subsist only on juice, popsicles and frozen grapes. But that's another story for another time.) It was the first time in my life that I did much cooking all by myself, and I had a thin, orange-covered cookbook called the Teen's Vegetarian Cookbook that I had picked up in a bargain bin somewhere. It was actually a great book and was full of easy, mostly good-tasting recipes. Two of the ones I liked were fried rice and stir-fry, and I made them both many times. The kitchen was tiny with no natural light. The knives, pots and cutting boards were all flimsy and inadequate, but despite that (or maybe because of it) it was always satisfying to cook a good meal in that kitchen.
I still own the Teen's Vegetarian Cookbook (in fact, I just lent it to a friend who needs some guidance in the cooking category). But I surprisingly didn't think to open it up to put this fried rice together. First I searched the rest of the fridge for any leftover vegetables that needed using, and found broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and green onions. Fried rice is so much fun to make because you can basically throw in any vegetable you want.
When it came to the sauce, I was unfortunately not confident enough to make one all on my own, even though I knew the basic ingredients. So I opened one of our trusty Moosewood cookbooks and followed one of their sauce recipes.
I pulled our wok out from the bottom shelf (it was a wedding present and this was the first time we ever used it, if you can believe it) and got to work. I scrambled an egg first, then cooked the vegetables, adding a little sauce now and then, and finally the rice. I added the green onions near the end and saved some for a garnish.
It's pretty hard to screw up Fried Rice. I guess that's why I made it so diligently when I was a young student trying to eat things that were tasty AND good for me. I love the way the whole thing gets so saucy and flavourful. And makes such great leftovers. It’s basically a perfect meal.
I feel like I’ve come a long way, cooking and otherwise, from my days spent in New Orleans four years ago. But Fried Rice is still delicious.
Wednesday Night Fried Rice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar or cider vinegar
2 teaspoons molasses or brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
red pepper flakes
One or two eggs, scrambled
2 to 3 cups chopped raw veggies
(You can use almost any veggies you want. Some suggestions include carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green onions, snow peas, mushrooms, bok choy or other cabbage, water chestnuts, eggplant…)
3 to 4 cups leftover rice
chopped nuts (I used almonds, but cashews would also be good)
Stir together the first seven ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Heat a wok or large frying pan on medium heat and add 2 teaspoons or so of oil. Add the egg and cook until it’s the way you like it (everyone likes scrambled eggs differently. Or you could make a thin omelet if you are good at flipping. I’m not.) Remove the egg from the pan and set aside.
Add a little more oil and the veggies that take longest to cook, such as carrots and eggplant. When they are starting to get tender, add the veggies that take a medium time to cook, such as broccoli and cauliflower. Then, add the veggies that don’t take much time, such as mushrooms and cabbage. Every time you add new veggies, pour in a little sauce. Save some sauce for when you add the rice.
When the veggies are all almost cooked to your liking, add the rice and the rest of the sauce and stir everything together. Cook just enough to heat through. Remove from the heat. Serve with a garnish of green onions or chopped nuts.
The proportions I wrote here are a bit loose – it’s all up for improvisation. You could also add tofu or meat if you wanted to.
*My excitement over my Gourmet subscription has not waned. In case you were wondering. I pulled the second issue out of my mailbox on a morning this week when I was off work, as I was heading out into the lovely sunny day. I was so excited about the promise of it in my bag that I bounced out the door and down the street with a half-smile on my face that probably made me look like a crazy person. It helped that the cover was a collage of delicious-looking crusty rolls and bread.