If bread is the staff of life for Westerners, rice is the very pillar for people of the Far East.
Hardly a day would pass without our Chinatown family enjoying its pleasures when I was growing up.
White rice with coin purse eggs. Sautéed greens strewn across a bed of the fluffy grains. Bits of succulent meat in a colorful stir fry piled on top of individual bowls of rice.
We leaned heavily on rice. Put all our weight against it, you could say.
We even found uses for it besides those epicurean.
Our grandmother somehow discovered for instance, that with the addition of a little water, old rice could be cooked on the stove top to make a glue-like paste for our myriad art projects. She usually cooked the mixture on a large metal spoon over a low flame.
It wasn't quite congruent with the many stories we heard about her. Like, how before the Sino-Japanese War, she had a house full of servants who did everything for her.
And, how when the Japanese burned down the family home, she fled with her children, my mother included. My grandmother's jewelry - the only things of value she could carry with her when they escaped - were sewn into the hem of her dress.
Even as child, these were the types of images that appeared in my mind whenever I watched her hold that spoonful of sticky paste over a flame.
For me, the best use of the hard-working grain has always been as fried rice.
A dish of economy, fried rice is one of the most satisfying ways to use that left-over hardened white (or brown) block inside some forgotten container in the back of nearly every fridge across America.
You know you have one. Go check. It's there.
Use it up! Right now! (As my grandmother, who incidentally, was quite bossy would say.)
Here’s what I did with mine. First, I had to stop my husband from throwing that chunk of old rice into a bowl to “nuke” in the microwave. He was intending for it to be his entire meal.
“Seriously? You’re having just that for lunch?” I said watching him.
“You can’t eat just that,” I insisted, snatching the rice from him.
I remembered that we had an overabundance of snap peas from our veggie CSA. The fat little pods were crisp and sweet, but so many had appeared recently in our weekly produce box that we hadn’t quite managed to eat them all.
I moved onto the flavorings.
Rice is great at absorbing whatever seasonings you add to it. The traditional flavorings for Chinese fried rice orbit around ginger and green onions, garlic and soy. Some soft, quickly cooked eggs might be added in for richness. Green peas might be thrown in with a handful of scallions at the end.
I chose to go a different route. I was thinking of kimchi.
If you haven’t had it, you must. Rambunctious, bold and always confident of being liked even when dressed in its full regalia of ground chili, garlic, ginger, anchovy sauce or whatever other un-shy finery it might be wearing, kimchi is delicious.
Often, when for no reason I think of it, my mouth will start watering.
Sadly, I had none in my refrigerator. Yes, I was utterly kimchi-less. So, I did the next best thing.
I made a seasoning paste with the exact ingredients I would normally use to make a bok choy kimchi.
I quickly sautéed my diagonal-cut snap peas first then set them aside.
Next, I seared my seasoning paste in a very hot pan with a few tablespoons of oil. The paste caramelized and took on a smoky flavor.
I added the block of old rice, using a wooden spoon to break it up as I worked the seasoning paste into it. Then, I let the rice sit in the hot pan in as thin a layer as possible to allow the rice to soften and take on all the flavors.
The snap peas were added back in toward the end after the rice was cooked through with the paste.
On top of that, I tossed in a generous amount of chopped cilantro and green onion for freshness. A generous drizzle of toasted aromatic sesame oil followed.
I scooped it up into a bowl and handed it over to Marc.
There, much better. Savory, spicy, fresh. Super quick. And made from leftovers.
"Thanks," He said smiling as he took the bowl.
What are you waiting for? Go make some already!
*P.S. For those of you eating paleo or ketogenic, you can still make this using cauliflower rice. Add in some cooked bacon or add a fried egg on top! Delicious.
Snap Pea Fried Rice with Kimchi Seasoning Paste
For Kimchi Seasoning Paste:
1 ½ Tablespoons gochugaru (Korean chili pepper flakes)
1 Tablespoon anchovy sauce
1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon peeled, grated ginger
For Fried Rice:
1 cup fresh snap peas
3 ½ cups cooked leftover rice
Kimchi seasoning paste (see above)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus more for garnish
¼ cup chopped green onions, plus more for garnish
4-5 Tablespoons oil of your choice (I used olive oil)
Additional salt, as needed
Dark toasted sesame oil to finish dish
In a small bowl, stir together ingredients for seasoning paste. Set aside to allow flavors to combine for about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, remove ends of snap peas by pulling down on top and bottom ends to remove string-like “tail.” After you have done this with all of your snap peas, cut each one on the diagonal into ¼-inch pieces and place them in a small bowl. Some of the peas from inside will begin to spill out one the entire pod is cut. Toss them into your bowl.
Heat skillet (or wok) over medium-high heat. Place a tablespoon or two of oil in your skillet. Toss in the cut snap peas (and loose peas). Season with a generous pinch of salt. Stir and toss to cook for 2-3 minutes. You want the peas to be still very crisp. Set aside.
Wipe out the skillet.
After your seasoning paste has had time to come together, place skillet or wok over high heat. Allow skillet to become nice and hot before turning down to medium-high. Add oil then paste. Allow paste to sizzle and cook until it darkens a bit. It may even smoke slightly.
Add rice, breaking any chunks by pressing down gently on it with a wooden spoon or spatula. Stir and flip rice with utensil to work paste in well then spread out in a layer on the bottom of the pan. Allow to cook undisturbed for 7-8 minutes. Scrape up rice and continue to flip and stir for 5-10 more minutes. This depends on how long your rice has been hanging out in the back of your refrigerator.
When your rice is sufficiently softened and cooked, toss in cooked snap peas. Toss and flip rice to combine. Toss in cilantro and green onions. Quickly combine then shut off heat. Taste for salt and add any additional as needed.
Scoop into a serving dish and garnish with additional chopped green onions and cilantro. Drizzle generously with sesame oil.
Serves 3 generously.