Fried rice for summer
Explorer file photo, Fried rice recipes that incorporate garden-ripe local produce make high-quality dishes with low price tags.

By design, fried rice is a frugal cook’s dream.

Cold (as in leftover) cooked rice is stir-fried with bits of cooked meat or seafood (also leftovers), a mishmash of vegetables (whatever is seasonal or on hand) and usually a few scrambled eggs.

There are no set rules to preparing this dish except that it is important to start with cold or at least room temperature rice. Freshly steamed rice will be too wet, causing the grains to stick together and the results to be lumpy and dense.

Most varieties of rice will work, but long grain white, jasmine and basmati varieties are best. Because these rices aren’t particularly sticky, they produce a pleasantly fluffy fried rice.

Brown rice will work, but stick with long grain varieties; short grain brown rice tends to be stickier.

The technique is simple: If you are including eggs, start by scrambling them in some oil, then set them aside. Next, add more oil and stir-fry (cook, stirring constantly) any aromatics, such as onions, garlic and ginger.

Add the cooked meat and vegetables and stir-fry until the vegetables begin to soften. Then, add the cold rice and cook, stirring constantly, until heated through. Finally add the eggs, toss, and season with salt or soy sauce.

It’s helpful to cut all of your cooked meat and vegetables into uniform sizes so they will cook consistently.

This recipe takes advantage of the low cost and high quality of seasonal produce such as zucchini, yellow squash and red bell peppers. The dish will easily feed a family of four with plenty of leftovers and costs just over $1 per serving.

For a vegetarian version, leave the meat out and increase the number of eggs or add some diced smoked tofu.

The recipe calls for using peanut oil for frying, which adds a great nutty flavor and performs well over high heat. Canola or vegetable oil will work fine, as well.

If you have it, a few drops of sesame oil adds nice flavor. To give the fried rice a spicy kick, add some crushed red pepper while cooking the onions and garlic, or add a few dashes of hot oil or hot sauce at the end.

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