Rice Bowl Basics

One of my favorite things about a new year is the return to simplicity. After several weeks of a seemingly endless trough of holiday sweets and roast beasts, I'm relieved to let go of the lavish feasting and get back to basics.


A bowl of wok-fried, veggie-studded rice makes everything nice. (Kim O'Donnel)

For me, the shift in attitude is more about lightening things up than about counting calories, and in particular, incorporating more vegetables (and less meat) into my diet. A big bowl of clementines is in full view when I'm eager for a snack, and I've said bye-bye to those cookie gift bags.

Typically at this time of year, I yearn for soup, but as one reader pointed out in my chat yesterday, the weather has been just too darn balmy for steaming bowls of broth. Instead, I turned to a different kind of bowl, studded with a rainbow of veggies and a pillow of wok: fried rice.

Scratch the notion of greasy fried rice from a Chinese carryout joint. The at-home version is much lighter, less salty and as veg-heavy as you want.

The work is in the prep. All chopping must be done in advance, so you can have all ingredients at the ready for a quick toss in the wok. Total cooking time in wok itself is less than 10 minutes. For a protein boost, I added shredded egg to my bowl, which I cooked in the wok before adding the rice fixins. In a hot wok, a few beaten eggs transform into an egg pancake in about 12 seconds, a phenomenon that never bores me.

When it comes to a choice of veg, don't fret. Look at what you've got in the crisper first. Improvise. Don't sweat it. Each fried rice is different and unique each time you go back to the wok.

As I tucked into my bowl last night, I thought, yes indeed, I've started things off on a brighter, lighter note.

For more enlightening recipes with the new year in mind, check out Walter Nicholls' story in today's Food section.

Now it's your turn. How do you kitchen-transition from the holidays into the new year? Share tips and tricks in the comments area below.

Aromatic Vegetarian Fried Rice
From "The Breath of a Wok" by Grace Young

Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons sesame oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup chopped shallots
2 tablespoons minced, mild fresh chilies
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup diced carrots (substitute: chopped fresh green beans)
4 cups cold cooked rice (About 1 1/3 cups uncooked rice)
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced celery (substitute: chopped bok choy)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Method
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact.

Swirl in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and the eggs. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, tilting wok so that the eggs cover the surface as thinly as possible to make a pancake. When bottom is just beginning to brown and egg is just set, flip and allow to set on other side, about 5 seconds. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into shreds.

Add remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil, followed by shallots, chiles and garlic, and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Add carrots (or substitute), reduce to medium heat and stir-fry 2-3 minutes until shallots soften.
Add rice, bell pepper, celery (or substitute), soy sauce, salt and pepper. Increases heat to medium-high and cook 2-3 minutes more, breaking up rice with a metal spatula until heated through. Add egg and stir to combine.

Remove wok from heat. Stir in cilantro and drizzle remaining sesame oil.

Note: You may make this dish without eggs. If so, eliminate the teaspoon of sesame oil at the beginning of the recipe, and proceed with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Makes 2-3 entree-sized servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 3, 2007; 8:55 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Vegetarian/Vegan
Previous: Cooking Up a New Year | Next: Japanese Beer Here!

Comments

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I love rice and have found a way to cook it without stirring or burning. I bake my rice. First I mix long grain white rice with brown rice in a canister. Mix it half and half, then shake it to mix it up evenly. As the level goes down I just add another bag of rice (alternating white and brown) and mix it up again.

To bake it, I use 1 cup of rice, 2 cups of boiling water or broth, salt, pepper and butter to taste. Then bake in a covered casserole dish (I use a Pyrex 1 1/2 qt. dish) in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Let it sit a few minutes to soak up all the liquid. Fluff with a fork before serving. It comes out perfect every time.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 3, 2007 10:20 AM

Southern Maryland -- Fabulous suggestion! Will be passing along your rice cooking method to my newly married daughter who is a huge brown rice fan.

As for lightening up food choices - last night I made an Italian dish - using mustard greens and angel hair pasta.

I blanch the greens for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a frying pan, I heat olive oil, garlic, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, and a bit of tabasco sauce (or fresh red pepper flakes.) When the greens are done, I flash cool them under cold running water and drop them into the hot oil. In the greens water, I cook the angel hair pasta.

When pasta is done, drain and toss in frying pan with mustard greens.

Heavenly. (thanks to my Italian mom's peasant cooking!)

Posted by: Columbia MO | January 3, 2007 10:42 AM

Is anyone able to successfully stir fry with a wok on an electric stove? Furthermore, can anyone stir fry on a glass top range?

I had an (admittedly) cheap wok on my range, and even when the heat was cranked up, you could still hold the wok with your hand.

heavy-bottomed frying pans work ok for getting and staying hot.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 3, 2007 12:31 PM

Try frying the rice first - raw. Now add your chopped veggies and fry them...now add chicken or veg broth and lower the heat.

Yer done... no cold cooked rice required.

Finish with grated hard cheese for a faux-risotto.

Posted by: Long Beach, CA | January 3, 2007 1:07 PM

In the Philippines, and I suspect in most of Asia, fried rice is made from cold, leftover steamed rice. And so, by default it is breakfast food. It is also very simple --- fry garlic to a crisp on a wok, add the rice and sea salt, fry until steaming hot. This is eaten with fried or scrambled eggs and a meat dish (ham, sausages, tucino) and perhaps a side of sliced tomatoes. The prefered beverage is sweet coffee with milk.

Posted by: Leah | January 3, 2007 3:03 PM

I got four cookbooks for Christmas (my request thanks to that Amazon.com wish list!). The one I'm "reading" first is All About Braising by Molly Stevens. On the one hand I wanted the book for all those delicious winter braising recipes like beef ribs, beef burgundy, osso bucco, etc. But I'm just as pleased that the book includes so many vegetable and fish braises. So while I was looking forward to cooking meaty comfort food this winter, I'm quite pleased to know that there is just as much lighter fare to explore in the coming months, which won't require hours in the oven anyway.

Posted by: Sean | January 3, 2007 3:12 PM

To 12:31 --

Yes, I've used my wok on, first, an electric coil range and, now, a ceramic, glass-topped range. Has worked great on both.

I think the key is the quality of the wok. I have a large, heavy-duty, one-handled, Kitchen-Aid model that NEVER burns and cooks very uniformly. It heats up fast and really goes to town once the oil is hot. (Also, for cooking in very high temps, peanut oil is best, as it can tolerate the heat and not scorch.)

Posted by: KJ in Bmore | January 3, 2007 3:22 PM

I LOVE stir fry's after the holidays! I probably make them up twice a week or more. I make an italian version that uses jarred marinara sauce instead of soy sauce, and served over pasta - but use the same stir-fry concept with the veggies in the fridge (usually mushrooms, broccoli, bell pepper, onion, zucchini). Tastes great!

I also rely heavily on Turkey burgers. They're tasty but not as heavy as regular burgers and very versatile.

I feel lighter already!

Posted by: LV | January 3, 2007 3:59 PM

Am definitely going to do this recipe at home!

In defense of take-out Fried Rice:

For years/decades I've listened to this 'greasy fried rice take-out' complaint.
Gosh! either I have been darn lucky,or maybe it's because I avoid those places with neon beer signs in the window -- since I've never experienced this problem!

The Chinese restaurants where I go, prepare fabulous take-out fried rice!

Posted by: Ann Drew | January 4, 2007 1:50 PM

once i had no eggs so i threw in a well-drained can of tuna instead. with a little chili sauce for a flavor boost it was wonderful.

Posted by: fishdish | January 13, 2007 7:45 PM

What sort of rice do you use for the fried rice. I use Basmati for most of my cooking.

Posted by: Sheboygan | January 30, 2007 5:29 PM

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