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Meatless Mondays: Veggie Fried Rice

Okay, I have absolutely no idea why fried rice is something that’s intimidated me for so long, but now that I’ve tried it I will definitely be making it again. It depends a lot on having leftover rice (which I tend to make in quantity anyway) and veggies and stuff in the fridge. Also on having in one’s fridge that one key ingredient that at least for me sort of makes the difference between “I am pretending I’m cooking something sort of Asian” and cooking something that actually tastes sort of Asian. That ingredient is toasted sesame oil–a must-have. Fortunately, it keeps just about forever.

The rice has to be cold, and the pan has to be very hot, and you have to pretty much pay real attention for the entire 5-7 minutes or so it’s cooking.

Veggie Fried Rice (quick!)

  • Chop up a little onion, celery, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, whatever.
  • Saute on very high heat in as little olive oil as you can manage, in a fairly big pan, till just beginning to brown.  The food needs room to move around, or it gets juicy and steamy.
  • Sprinkle with a little garlic powder and/or ginger powder. Or, much better, add a little real minced or grated fresh garlic or ginger. (I would have just said that, except I promised you “quick.”)
  • Remove veggies from pan. (It should be pretty dry at this point–not much, or any, juice floating around in there.)
  • Into very hot pan, put a little toasted sesame oil
  • Add about a cup of cooked cold brown rice. Stir around and saute until lightly browned.  Put in a tbs. or so of soy sauce. Add veggies to pan, stir around a little more. (This would be the place to add any veggies you don’t want browned, like baby peas or something…
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Optional–somewhere in the rice-stirring part, add just a little dollop of peanut butter and smoosh around till it’s melted and evenly distributed…or if you want to do it right, mix with the soy sauce and heat a bit so it mixes better.  But the smooshing method works just fine.  Serve with a little fresh lime juice squeezed on it–this gives it that sort of pad thai vibe.

This is SERIOUSLY yummy and ridiculously quick. If you want a little more protein, you could scramble an egg in there somewhere between the veggie step and the rice step, and then put it all together at the end.  And for those of us trying to cut calories without feeling deprived–remember that the higher the veggie-to-rice ratio, the more you can eat for the same number of calories!

Meatless Mondays: Curried Lentils and Rice

I honestly cannot be bothered to photograph my food, so please pardon me. (Unlike my brother, whose vacation photos consist largely of pictures of what he ate…)

But one of my favorite REALLY EASY things to make when I want something seriously health-ful, easy, meatless, and requiring not many ingredients is this lentil-and-brown-rice dish–delicious and easy, good complete protein, whole grain, just absolutely nothing bad to say about it.

Curried Lentils and Rice

In a saucepan with a lid, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. (You could use broth if you’d like.)

Add

  • 1 cup brown lentils (rinsed and picked)
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 tbs or so curry powder or garam masala of your choice
  • 1 28 oz. can (or quart jar) diced tomatoes with their juice

Stir and bring back to a simmer; cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until rice and lentils are cooked but not mooshy.

That’s it. You may want to play with the amounts of spices, you may decide to add onions or garlic or sauteed mushrooms or other veggies.  You may wish to omit the tomatoes. You can do pretty much whatever the heck you want; it’s still delicious. The lentils and rice take about the same amount of time to cook (don’t substitute white rice, or it’ll go to mush before the lentils are done!), and all that really matters is having two cups of water to one cup of lentils/rice.  This makes about 7 cups, which would probably feed 3-4 people, or 2 with lunch leftovers…

If you don’t have curry powder or garam masala–you can make do with your own spice blend, even if you don’t have all the ingredients.  Curry powder recipes are available all over the internet, but basically they seem to be a combination of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, with maybe a little cayenne if you like the heat. (I happen to love Pensey’s hot version…)  Garam Masala, an Indian spice blend, is another where there are about as many versions as there are Indian grandmas who make them, and it’s a lot like curry only you usually have some “sweet” spices like cinnamon, cloves and/or cardamon, and leave out the turmeric. (By the way, to really do this right you’d toast the spices in the pan first, then grind them, and THEN start the rest of the recipe; I really don’t ever do that…)

Which is to say, if you have cumin and cinnamon but not the others, throw some of that in with some black pepper, and it’ll probably be delicious. Futz around with spices, and don’t be afraid to mess things up.

Enjoy!

Afternoon of domesticity (crockpot rice pudding risotto)

This is my busiest work week of the year.  It’s insane.  Way too much to do, and way more organization than my brain can deal with.  (I’m just not a linear thinker, I tend to jump around–and this week I not only have to be linear and cover a lot of big-picture and small-detail bases, but I have to do it in several linear streams at once. Oy.)

Yesterday afternoon I had a little respite, though, and in my usual vein, rather than doing something intelligent like, oh, taking a nap, I went into this burst of homey activity.  None of it was difficult, but it was all the kind of thing that I hope will yield long-lasting (through the week, at least) rewards.

Risotto Rice Pudding in the Crockpot–This is one of my favorite comfort foods, right after baked egg custard (which I now know how to make in the microwave).  I previously posted a recipe for making this rice pudding in the oven, which was absolutely delicious, but tonight I tried it in the crock instead.  Lower maintenance, and easier to make more of.   It was yummy, and much easier than any of my previous incarnations–I put 8 cups of milk, 1 cup arborio rice, and 8 tbs. sugar into the crockpot, added a few generous shakes of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and ground cloves (very generous with the cinnamon; not as generous with the cloves), maybe a tsp. of vanilla extract, and cooked it all on low for about 3-4 hours. I was lifting the lid and stirring a lot during the last hour, too.  In the meantime, I soaked 2/3 of a cup or so of currants in maybe half a cup of frangelico liqueur–you could use brandy or any other liqueur if you wanted, or cream sherry would be nice too–or you could use juice if you don’t want any alcohol–for the duration.  At the end of the 3-4 hours when the rice was all soft and the whole thing had a sort of creamy texture (it thickens up a good bit when it cools), I dumped the currants and liqueur into the pudding. (Most recipes say to drain the currants; I say the hell with that.) Stir it up good–since the pudding is still steaming hot, I figure most of the alcohol cooks off, right?  I added a lot more spices at this point too, to sort of freshen them. This is a lovely, yummy, comforting pudding with no fat in it beyond whatever was in your milk to begin with, and not an excessive amount of sugar either. (Verdict from later that night…okay, this is beyond lovely and yummy, this is flipping AMBROSIA.)

Black Beans–now that my husband is allowed to reintroduce some of his potentially allergic foods one at a time, we’re starting with the black beans.  I did the quick-soak method (bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, turn off the heat, let sit covered for at least an hour), then drained and rinsed them and simmered them slowly for a couple of hours with a little salt and thyme in the water. (I would have used a bay leaf, but I discovered too late that I’m out.) These will go into chili, burritos, quesadillas, soups, heck, all over the place!  And I will freeze a bunch of them by putting half a cup into each muffin tin and freezing them, so when I need to thaw smaller quantities they’ll be there and ready to go.  They’re also really easy in the crockpot, but my crockpot was busy and my counter too messy to allow for two going at once. Sigh.

Brown Rice–again, cooked in quantity, it’s something I can pull out all week for breakfasts, snacks, dinners, to throw under chili, whatever.  Two parts water to one cup rice, simmer half an hour or so till done.  I make 6-8 cups at a time and they last the week.

Chili–okay, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s what the rice and beans were in preparation for…and The Man has been Craving Meat.  So I bought a measly pound of organic ground beef (which I know is still not sustainable for all its organic-ness–but if doing this once every 4 months or so can keep the “why don’t we eat more meat” pleas at bay, it’s worth it), and into the crock this morning I threw the beef, a bag of frozen bell peppers, a chopped up onion, and a few cups of beans.  Threw a few tablespoons of chili powder on top of that and added some extra ground chilis and garlic, a pinch of unsweetened cocoa powder, and a good shake of cinnamon, and threw a can or two of diced tomatoes on top of that.  When I come home from work I’ll futz with it and check out the seasonings, make sure they’re what I want them to be, and doubtless add a bunch  more chili powder and other seasonings.  This chili is not particularly sexy, no one’s famous secret family recipe, nothing to go “ohmigodwow” over–but it’s a good solid filling healthy (except for that beef) dinner that is easy to freeze portions of for later, or save for other nights this week when I know I won’t have energy or time to cook.  (Now my crockpot green chicken chili recipe is something to wow over a bit, but I’m not making that this week.)  Served over brown rice, it’s a Real Dinner.

And then the Man and I watched 24 (if the world recycled its goods the way that show recycles plots, we’d be in good shape!) while munching on homemade multigrain fresh artisan-baked bread with olive oil and grated parmesan. I guess as fattening vices go this is as good a one as any, and better than ice cream or chips.  It’s our weekly (whenever I’m home and have time to make bread–which is to say maybe monthly if we’re lucky) ritual, and it wasn’t a bad way to spend the only evening I’ll have at home this week…

[UPDATE: I made the rice pudding again yesterday with 2/3 cups arborio rice and 8 cups of milk; it’s an even nicer texture, IMO…depends whether you want more of the rice or more of the creamy part…]

Brown Rice

I just made up a ginormous pan of brown basmati rice last night.  Well, enormous is perhaps an overstatement–two cups of dry rice in 4 cups of water, to equal 6 cups of finished product.  I did it to sort of force myself out of easy pasta as my go-to-source for grains. Pasta, with refined white flour, is nutritionally less than a powerhouse…brown rice, on the other hand, is a wonderful fibrous whole grain, and one that still contains all the good stuff that white rice has had removed. It also takes about 40 minutes to cook, which is why I will use pasta or white rice as my “go to” grains more often than I should. But this time I made a bunch of the healthy stuff.  Now my mission is to actually eat it.

It’s going to be fairly easy, actually, and I think this is something I should be a bit more staple-y about, having it in my fridge sort of the same way I nowadays have a container of quickie bread dough just sitting there waiting to become bread when I feel like it.  So far I’ve come up with–

Breakfast: This morning I put some into a bowl with some cut up fruit and raisins, cinnamon, a little brown sugar, and some milk thrown over it, put it in the microwave for 2 minutes, and delicious.  Like rice pudding only much quicker.  Like oatmeal only not as gummy. Like cereal only way, way better.  This is a keeper!

Lunch: my dietary downfall is my favorite comfort food: pasta with butter and salt and a little parmesan.  I just think it’s the absolute most delicious thing in the world.  If I had to choose between giving up pasta with butter and salt for a month or chocolate for a year, I’d seriously have to think about which to let go of. I was delighted to realize today that brown rice with butter and salt and a little parmesan is very nearly as good as its white flour pasta equivalent.  Even my picky kids will eat this, though they complain about it.

Dinner: well, tonight I’ll probably take a break from the stuff, but here of course the possibilities are endless.  Throwing pasta sauce or pesto over it probably wouldn’t be bad at all.  Cooking some lentils and mixing the lentils and rice with some curry powder would be yummy too.  (Though honestly I’d probably just make fresh rice along with the lentils, since it takes about the same time for each.) All kinds of veggies could go into this very easily, too.  Throw some salsa, black beans, and corn in–you’ve got a nice Southwestern rice dish.  Throw the above onto a flour tortilla and roll it up, it’s burritos.  Or you can make fried rice, your own alternative to the oh-so-delicious but incredibly fat-laden Chinese restaurant staple–you can do your own recipe searches, but the secret seems to be a combination of day-old and not-too-moist rice that’s very cold, and a skillet that’s very hot.  This site seems like one I’ll want to revisit for that, since I’ve never had a fried rice success…

Rice will keep easily in the fridge for 4 or 5 days, and I find that basmati seems to hold its shape and tastiness much longer than “regular” rice.  It dries out a bit as it sits, of course, but as long as you store it well (am I the only one whose husband doesn’t get that those cardboard things from the chinese restaurant are NOT the place to store the leftovers?) it stays good for several days–and I’ve been known to push that several days pretty far. (As I always say…please don’t take my advice on food safety. I’m a food safety nightmare. Do your own research and homework. If it has blue spots on it, don’t eat it.)