Friday, October 21, 2011

Cleaning Out the Fridge and Fried Rice

One of the things I hate, most of all, is throwing food away. My contempt for this activity exists on many levels. 

First is the obvious fact that there are millions of people in this world that don't have enough to eat. To throw away my food while they have none, well, it hurts. Rationally, I understand that I can't exactly box-up my old leftover butternut squash soup and send it to Liberia, but it still sucks.

The second, less powerful but still significant reason is the small fact that I paid for that food. With my money. So essentially, I am throwing my cash in the trash. And that ain't cool.

Lastly, throwing away food makes me feel like a failure in the kitchen - like I didn't plan enough, wasn't resourceful enough, or creative enough to put it to use.

Did I mention that I hate throwing away food?

Luckily, I am able to prevent this from happening the majority of the time by throwing together some "clean out the pantry" dishes. These are meals that have a multitude of interchangeable ingredients centered around a few kitchen staples and usually include the use of leftovers from previous meals. Things like grain salads, pizzas (using any leftover roasted/cooked veggies), and soups can usually be thrown together from whatever you have sitting in your fridge.

To make room for my produce delivery today, I wanted to clean out all the veggies I bought this week, along with the big container of cooked brown rice I made on Monday. I always make a big pot of grains in the beginning of the week to throw in lunches, but I didn't end up using it all this week. So, I decided today was a perfect day for my Easy Fried Rice. Awesome name, huh?  It is what it is.

You start with cooking your protein. I prefer to use tofu for this. It has a similar texture to egg, which is used in traditional fried rice. I go vegan as often as possible, but if you want to use egg, fry it up first in a little oil and set aside before starting the rest of your dish. Or, use a little tofu and a little egg - it's delicious.

Then you cut up whatever veggies you have on hand - and I really do mean whatever you have. Today I used carrots, turnip greens, bean sprouts, mushrooms, peas, anaheim peppers, garlic, ginger, and green onion, but I have used all kinds of veggies in the past, including zucchini, spinach, corn, summer squash, bell pepper, red onion, arugula, cabbage, bok choy, kale, chard, broccoli, green beans, you name it!

The few ingredients I always like to have in there are garlic, scallions, peas, and greens of some kind. The first three add a lot of flavor, and the greens up the health factor of this dish significantly.

Ok, so you cook your vegetables on high in a little oil, starting with the sturdiest vegetables first (carrot, onion, green beans) and then adding the quicker cooking vegetables a little later. You want them to cook evenly. Add your minced garlic and ginger, then you throw in your rice, scallions, tofu, and soy sauce, cook a little longer, and serve.

The key is to make small batches at a time and to cook on high, to get the "stir-fried" taste and to keep the texture of the vegetables and the rice firm. Big batches will yield a big pile of mush.

This is a perfect weeknight dinner, because it is a complete meal in a bowl, AND because it only uses one cutting board and one wok. For those of you out there without a dishwasher, like me, you know the value of a one-pot meal. The task of doing the dishes by hand after a completely homemade meal can be a daunting one.

This is also a good dish if you are trying to introduce tofu to a non-believer. It plays a minor role here, but tastes good as part of the whole package.

The recipe below is an approximate one. No need to bust out the measuring cups here. For the veggies, "handfuls" will work just find. Enjoy!

Easy Fried Rice
Tofu Ingredients
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 block extra firm tofu, diced
sea salt
black pepper

Rice Ingredients
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup shredded turnip greens (or any green)
1/2 cup anaheim peppers, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup bean sprouts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
3 cups cooked brown rice
3/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
cilantro for garnish (optional)
chili sauce for garnish (optional)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large wok on medium/high heat. Swirl oil around the bottom of the pan, and immediately add tofu and season with salt and pepper. Cook tofu on medium high until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

2. Heat another tablespoon of oil in wok and turn heat to high. Add carrots, greens, and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes. Add mushrooms, bean sprouts and frozen peas, cooking for 3 more minutes.

3. Create a well in the middle of your pan by pushing vegetables aside. Put a small amount of oil in the middle, and place your garlic and ginger in the oil. Fry for 1 minute. Stir in rice and 1/2 cup green onions. Cook for 3-4 more minutes, stirring when needed to prevent burning. Rice should get a little crispy.

4. Add soy sauce, stir to combine, and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Transfer to serving bowl immediately and garnish with cilantro and chili sauce.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah. We went from dishwasher to no-dishwasher in the last year, so dishes have become an onerous task. Plus: no counterspace, its getting ridiculous.

    I have the same fear of throwing food away that you do. Thanks for exactly articulating the reasons I hate it as well. Our newest solution: Deep. Freezer. !