Friday, May 25, 2012

Vegetarian fried rice, spring style

I've never been to China, but I've always been fascinated with the variations in flavors and quality at Chinese food restaurants and take-out places. Which one is authentic, I wondered. Now I know that Northerners and Southerners in China eat different things and have different tastes. While in the South the diet is rice-based and peppered with tropical fruit and vegetables, in the North it is wheat-based. Easterners enjoy fish and seafood, while Westerners like rich flavors and hot chilies. And yet, if I were faced with a Chinese dish I'm quite sure I wouldn't be able to tell what cuisine the cook is practicing.

Even in little Macon, it was easy to note a difference between an obscure take-out place like Ming's and a large chain like New China Buffet. I always preferred the former because I found it, intuitively, more authentic, even though the latter had more variety to offer. I remember the house fried rice from Ming's as a delicious treat that rewarded us after arduous exams or long hours of student work, in the library or whatever place they'd assigned us to expiate our tuition costs. They were hard times, and we often sought solace in food. Who could blame us?

I first started stir-frying after a meal at Genghis Grill in Albuquerque. This is an unusual sort of restaurant where you select your ingredients, pile them up in a bowl, wait in a long line and finally when your turn comes the chef cooks your selected meal right in front of you, with your sauce of choice. My meal was delicious, and I wasn't sure whether it was my merit or the chef's. But it was so simple and tasty that it won me over.

The stir-fry was invented out of necessity, to conserve cooking fuel which was scarce during the Tang Dynasty in China. Today our scarcity is quite different - it's not cooking fuel, but time. Our lives are so busy that we hardly remember to eat, let alone prepare our own meals. It's much easier to grab a burrito at a drive-through on your way somewhere. Quicker, agreed. But nutritious? I don't know. For all you busy people, here is a quick recipe that I created inspired by the colors of spring and, well, the contents of my fridge. This makes four generous bowls of fried rice and it keeps very well, so you can double the recipe and make more to last you longer.

1 1/2 cups jasmine or Basmati brown rice, cooked (I use 1 part rice per 2 1/2 parts water)
1/2 package (8 oz) frozen peas, cooked
1/2 package green beans (8 oz), cooked
1 large red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 eggs
2 Tbsp soy sauce (organic is better!)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
olive oil

First, cook the eggs scrambled in a non-stick pan. Meanwhile, set a wok (or a large frying pan) on medium heat and generously coat the bottom with olive oil. 
When the eggs are done, set them to the side. Wait until the wok is hot (2 minutes or so) and throw in the onions and garlic. Saute stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until transparent. 
Throw in red pepper and sesame seeds and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Throw in the cooked rice, peas and green beans and stir together for another minute. Add the cooked eggs and mix everything together over medium heat for 3 minutes. 
Remove from heat, add soy sauce and mix.

By the way:
Since this is not a spicy dish, it will go well with a dry red wine, medium-bodied as to not steal the show. I had a glass of Slow Paseo, a Tempranillo blend from Trader Joe's.

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