Vegetable Fried Rice and I go way back. When I was in college, I could think of no better treat than a box of fried rice from China Lantern, which was down the street from my dorm. It was run by a family from China. It was run by a couple, their daughter would sit in the back of the restaurant and do her homework, constantly interrupted by guests from whom she would take food orders. She was enrolled at another university in Worcester. Her parents worked around the clock, at least that is the impression we got from our interactions with them.
My friend David, who is notorious for having an erratic sleep schedule, would order food from them at the craziest times. He swears that he called China Lantern one time in the middle of the night and the owner sounded as if she had been deep asleep prior to the call. She fixed him his order anyway. Maybe they should have charged higher prices and worked less, but considering the competition on Main Street by other vendors for student’s money (we also frequented Fantastic’s, a lebanese diner), this would have probably been a bad idea.
Either way, for under five dollars, China Lantern would provide you a full meal. I can’t recall eating anything at China Lantern other than the fried rice (although I am sure that I did), but I don’t think I have ever had as delicious a fried rice as theirs eve again. I guess, this in part owed to the fact, that I soon thereafter developed an iffy relationship with eggs and I never ordered fried rice again.
Anyway, China Lantern no longer provides meals for anyone, David told me last year that the couple had retired, packed up and moved back to China, and that their daughter had graduated college and was doing really well for herself.
This week, I went to a somewhat typical Chinese restaurant here in Cologne. It was a bit like China Lantern in the way that you could feel how hard everyone there worked for their buck, but it was also nothing like China Lantern in the way that they eventually turned off the music to signal they would like to close up shop. I went to this place with work, but stopped at home before dinner, where I made and ate a quick meal. I ate nothing at the restaurant, because there was not a single dish on the menu suited for me. Watching everyone else enjoy their meals was surprisingly fine for me (I guess, the glass of bubbly in front of me helped), but it left me with a desire to have Asian food. Lots of it. The first dish the waiter brought to our table that evening was a huge plate of steaming fried rice (topped with an army of shrimps), and for some reason this dish stirred the most appetite in me (aside from the tofu hot pot).
First, I made a gado-gado style salad though. It was delicious and I will bring it to the blog. Promise!
I then made vegetable fried rice. I had green asparagus, there were mung bean sprouts and sugar peas in my fridge. I found a piece of ginger, fresh garlic and soy sauce and got cracking. The trick to fried rice is cold rice. It is best when made with rice that is one day old (something about the starches, don’t ask). Since I didn’t have old rice lying about the kitchen, I used Arborio rice, which I boiled in the afternoon and let rest on my stove until dinner time. I didn’t have basmati rice in my pantry, which would be a preferable type of rice for this project. Arborio worked really well though and I can also recommend reproducing this dish in your kitchen with brown rice, which is a less soft and chewy. I added a bit of egg, for the sake of nostalgia.
Obviously, make this dish with any vegetables you happen to have at home. It can be anything, as long as you have a bit of variation. Vegetable fried rice is a delicious feast on scraps which buys you time away from the stove!
2 tsp coconut oil
1 egg (in a bowl, beaten, with a pinch of salt; optional; or replace with vegan scrambled eggs for a vegan option)
2 cups cold rice
2 chives (washed and chopped)
1 piece of ginger (crushed)
3 garlic heads (crushed or minced)
3 tbsp gluten-free soy sauce
400g green asparagus (washed and cut into pieces)
200g sugar peas (washed and cut in half) 100g mung bean sprouts chili flakes (or fresh peppers, if you have them), salt and pepper Heat your wok or frying pan. Add the coconut oil and fry up the egg as if making scrambled eggs. Once finished, place the egg into a bowl. Now, add the second spoon of coconut oil to the pan and fry up the chopped chives, the chili flakes and the garlic and ginger for about a minute. Add the asparagus and fry for about three minutes (or more). Then add the sugar peas and then the mung bean sprouts (after a minute or more), then add the rice and return the fried egg to the pan. Turn up the heat below your pan, and then proceed to season the fried rice with the soy sauce and distributing the rice evenly among the vegetables. You may need to add a bit more salt and pepper and could add a bit of vegetable broth, if you are seeking a more non-traditional flavour. Don’t overcook this dish, you don’t want the vegetables to get soggy and start losing their colour. Serve them fresh and al dente, with a little squeak when you take a bite!Serve your vegetable fried rice while still hot. You could top it with crispy tofu, with toasted sesame seeds or cashew nuts!