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Debbie Koenig's picture

fried rice

I’m a big believer in authenticity. My husband and I (and now our son) will trek far and wide for a real taste of a particular kind of food, from New Jersey (and Connecticut) hot dogs to New England donuts to the fresh mozzarella made by the 90something Italian lady around the corner. But frankly, when it comes to getting dinner on the table, authenticity is usually the last thing on my mind. My concerns are twofold: First, what kind of kitchen triage must I perform just to get dinner on the table; and second, am I making something flavorful and healthy and satisfying? If I can accomplish both those things (yeah, point two is a three-parter, I know) my job is done. I’m a working mom, for crying out sake. What more do you want from me?

Given all that, when I cook, I make sure there are leftovers. Either they’ll be leftovers that are perfectly delicious to reheat and eat as-is (stews, soups, and the like), or they’ll be prime candidates for reinvention as something else. This particular dinner was based on the latter. Earlier in the week I'd made a tossed-together Asian marinade for some boneless chicken breasts, using hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I broiled six breasts, knowing we’d get at least another meal that way. To accompany it I made a double recipe of brown rice (the real thing, since I planned ahead—I use Saveur’s method, with a really big pot) and a big batch of Sesame Broccoli.

In the back of my head, I knew Fried Rice was on the agenda for later in the week.

Now, here’s what I mean about authenticity and how it doesn’t matter much to time-pressed cooks—moms or otherwise: When I make fried rice, I pull out every vegetable I can find in our fridge. In that evening’s case, it included the leftover broccoli, half a zucchini, a couple carrots, and artichokes. If my husband weren’t around there’d be frozen peas, too, but he hates the poor little dears. While my son “napped” in the afternoon, I chopped and re-stowed everything in the fridge, in individual containers—this made the actual cooking fly by, since I just grabbed bowls in order and dumped in their contents.

mise en place for fried rice
(My mise-en-place, ready to go)

Ten minutes before dinnertime, I started cooking. The end result was delicious, it was fiberiffically nutritious, and it actually made enough that I had the next day's lunch down, too. Was it authentic? Not at all. I’m pretty sure it would horrify most Asians—after all, I used leftover artichokes from a high-end Italian deli! (That may have been a misstep, by the way, but you never know until you try.)

The entire effort took approximately thirty minutes from beginning to end, but because I did it in stages it felt like nothing. It’s endlessly versatile, since you really can use just about any scraps of vegs and protein you’ve got handy. I’ve even been known to stop at the local Chinese takeout and just buy some rice—for a buck or two, it turns this into a spur-of-the-moment treat.

Whaddya Got Fried Rice
Serves 2-4, depending on what you pull out of the fridge
In this example I used:

Canola (or other neutral-flavored) oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, medium dice (also good: celery, cauliflower, raw broccoli)
Reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 a medium zucchini, medium dice (also good: red pepper, mushrooms)
2 leftover chicken cutlets, chopped (also good: tofu, virtually any leftover protein)
1 cup leftover sesame broccoli, chopped
1 cup leftover sautéed artichoke, chopped
2 cups leftover brown rice
Sesame oil

If you’re a mom whose kid still naps, devote twenty minutes of naptime to prepping the vegetables and leftover protein of your choice. Stow it all in the fridge in individual containers—this will be your mise-en-place come cooking time.

About ten minutes before you want to eat, put some oil in your biggest frying pan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the onion and sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic, and when you smell its aroma add the carrots (or whatever hard veg you’re using). Let that cook for another minute, then sprinkle with soy sauce and cover—you’ll really be steaming the hard vegetables, but this will make them cook faster and that’s the point here. Add the zucchini or other raw, soft vegetables, sprinkle with a little more soy sauce if it looks like it’s going to burn, and cover again. When zucchini is softened and maybe even a little brown, add whatever leftover ingredients you’re using—they can all go in at once since they’re all already cooked. Sprinkle with still more soy sauce and drizzle sesame oil around the pan. Stir and taste—adjust soy and sesame oil until you like the way it tastes. This is your dinner, so who cares what it’s “supposed” to taste like?

When it’s all heated through, remove from heat and serve.

Debbie Koenig is a food writer who blogs at Words to Eat By. Her first cookbook, Parents Need to Eat Too: 150+ Simple, Healthy Recipes for Sleep-Deprived, Frazzled New Moms & Dads, will be published next year by HarperCollins.

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