Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Ennui Shatterer

I was feeling a certain ennui regarding dinner this afternoon. I had planned to serve a pasta dish with a roasted red pepper and cream sauce, but we had pasta last night and then I had yet another leftover pasta dish for lunch today and, well, I just wasn’t feeling it, you know? There were plenty of vegetables around from Saturday morning’s rainy farmer’s market jaunt, and The Carnivore had a piece of meat in the fridge he needed to cook, so I decided to switch gears and throw together a vegetable plate instead.

That afore-mentioned ennui was still a problem though. I mean, I had potatoes and squash and some pole beans, but since we weren’t expecting many guests at the table tonight, I wanted to go easy and only cook as much as we would actually eat in one sitting, so three veggie dishes seemed like overkill. The thing was, I just couldn’t make up my mind what to make with any of my options. I knew I wanted to cook the pole beans, and when I bought them I had originally planned to make one of my usual green bean recipes with them, but frankly, I was sick to death of both of those dishes and wanted to try something new. This would be my first foray with pole beans anyhow, so I poked around in my cookbooks to get some details on what they actually were and how to prepare them. For this, I stuck with The Joy of Gardening Cookbook, a completely quirky and out-of-character-for-me tome from the early eighties with horrifyingly bad photography and hopelessly unfashionable recipes. As usual though, I got the information I was looking for about these beans and found enough general guidance on possible ways to cook them that I was able to wing it for myself.

I love that cookbook. My mom found it for me at a yard sale a few years ago, and I think I use it more often than any of the others in my embarassingly extensive collection. I would cry if I ever had to live without it. Matter of fact, I need to pencil that in on my desert island list…

The beans turned out deliciously, by the way, but they were completely overshadowed by the fried rice dish that I served with them. Just as I had been about to start peeling squash for the squash ribbon recipe that I like so much, I started getting hinky about not having any protein or starch on the menu and I remembered running across a recipe for vegetable fried rice when I was flipping through some recipe clippings over the weekend. Eureka, right? Oh sure, I had never actually made fried rice before, and it was going to involve scrambling an egg (another first for me - don't laugh) as well, not to mention that I was running low on time and would have to use WHITE (!) rice instead of brown, but my entire day thus far had been an exercise in futility so I was up for a little challenge.

And this recipe just looked like such fun. As with my favorite frittata recipe, this one too is essentially a framework by which you can use what you have on hand at any given time, and always come out with something a little different than before but equally delicious. I substituted like mad of course, since I didn’t have the oil called for in the original recipe, I had no intention of using bacon, and I didn’t have all the vegetables on the list either, but we’ve all had fried rice enough times to know that almost anything goes.

Like I said, this is my kind of recipe. And okay, I was just a wee bit nervous about the whole thing, especially that egg-scrambling business, but the recipe is truly foolproof. No experience required, you know? Best of all, we all loved it, even The Semi-Permanent Houseguest who doesn’t usually eat vegetables, but who ate every bite of this. Next time, I intend to use brown rice, for sure, though I’m not entirely positive the results will be as delightful since I have always read that white rice is best for this type of dish, but this recipe is most certainly going to be put into heavy rotation around here.


VEGETABLE FRIED RICE (serves 2 as a meatless main dish, or 4 as a side dish)
This is the perfect seasonal recipe: just use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Serve with additional soy sauce at the table so diners can adjust the flavor to their liking.
  • 2 Tbs sesame oil
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice (don't get out your ruler - this isn't rocket science, and a little unpredictability never hurt anyone)
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (my new favorite jar in the spice cabinet)
  • 2 cups cold cooked long-grain rice (this is a wonderful use for leftover rice)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbs soy sauce, plus more to taste
  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs oil over high heat. Add eggs and cook, stirring constantly, until scrambled and a little toasted looking, breaking up the egg into small pieces as you stir. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pan.
  3. Add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, until soft.
  4. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
  5. Add the squash, the bell pepper and the smoked paprika to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the vegetables have softened.
  6. Add the rice to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or so, until rice is heated through.
  7. Add the scrambled eggs, the parsley, and the soy sauce to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly yet again, for a couple of minutes, until hot.


Morgan's Mom said...

ok, you've piqued my interest about the Joy of Gardening Cookbook--so I had to order it off of Amazon for the bargain price of 2.09 (used, of course!)

Like you, I have shelves of cookbooks--but I am always looking for vegetable inspirations :)

Sarah Beam said...

Morgan's Mom - truly, it is one of the most useful cookbooks, though it feels really weird to be using something so, um, old. It's like looking at a fashion magazine where the models have on leg warmers.

Morgan's Mom said...

:) Just like the old Sunset magazine cookbook collections with the 1970's photos inside. SWEET. What can I say? I'm a geeky dietitian with a thing for cookbooks...