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.
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
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
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.
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