Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Baked Tofu Fried Rice with Peas, Carrots & Broccoli

Immediately, you see "fried" in the title and assume that this means fatty. Well, I'll be honest, there is fat in the dish, as there is (or should be) in almost all dishes. The trick to making this a healthy dish is to avoid most or all animal fats. The oil, which is used as a cooking medium, makes up nearly all the fat in the dish. Since the fat in the oil is unsaturated, and since the oil is kept to a minimum, the dish is actually quite healthy, despite the frying!

Fried rice, in its take-out form, is one of those very-bad-for-you dishes that I just love. It's probably not Chinese in origin, as is the case for so much so-called Chinese food in America, but I don't have any history on it. So, I'll just call it an American comfort food. It's greasy, salty, starchy ... just what we Americans love to wallow in. Taking this food which seems to have very little to offer, nutritionally speaking, and making it a healthy, nourishing dish, which still strongly resembles the original, is quite the challenge. I think I've done just that (pat, pat on the back to me ... hee hee!).

The first issue to address is the fat itself. In most fried rice, lots of oil is used, and I can understand why. It's easier to fry in lots of oil ... less burning and sticking. To keep the oil to a minimum, a careful eye must be kept on the heat, and the food should be almost constantly shifted in the pan. In many versions of fried rice, meat of some sort is a main element. Here, that is not the case, so that fat is completely nixed. The other source of fat in fried rice is egg. In my recipe, I've kept one egg in the dish (which is optional), mostly for authenticity, but this is considerably less than the amount used in standard fried rice.

The salt factor is mostly brought on by soy sauce. To keep authenticity, I used tamari (a type of soy sauce), but I used the low-sodium version, and very little of it, so the sodium is considerably reduced.

The starch in fried rice is fairly obvious ... rice! But it's ordinarily white rice, which will give you that insulin spike that so many carbo-phobes protest. Switching to brown rice is very easy in fried rice, since your eyes will already expect the color to be brown. The extra bite given in brown rice also adds some nice textural contrast. The brown rice adds fiber to the dish, making you fuller with less, so maybe you won't eat quite as much of it. You also won't get Chinese Food Syndrome (ie. you won't be hungry an hour later), since the brown rice will keep you going longer.

The final issue in making fried rice healthy is to throw in a few extra veggies and some vegetarian proteins. Those can be anything. To keep with tradition, I used peas and carrots, but these are not requirements. Add as many and as varied veggies and proteins as you can find. I also added broccoli and baked tofu to the dish, and they got along just fine with the rest of it.

This recipe is also a great garbage pail, as many of my recipes are. Since it's so versatile, you can use almost any leftover you have in the fridge. I'll often throw this together for lunch when I have some extra rice in the fridge from last night's dinner. This week, I served it for dinner itself. It is also a great side dish, and can even be served cold. Please, make the dish your own. Here is the way I made it this week:

Baked Tofu Fried Rice with Peas, Carrots & Broccoli
1 c. brown rice
1 3/4 - 2 c. water
salt, to taste (optional)
2 Tbsps. safflower oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 c. broccoli, cut into small, bite-size pieces
1/2 c. frozen peas
1 egg (optional)
8 oz. baked tofu, diced (I'd love to one day make this on my own ... but that is a subject for another day)
3 Tbsps. low-sodium tamari
2 Tbsps. mirin (Asian rice wine - available in many supermarkets)

In a small saucepan, bring the rice, water and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until all water is absorbed. Less water will make the rice more al dente and more water will make is softer.

In a wok, heat 1 Tbsp. safflower oil over medium high heat. Add garlic, onion, carrots and broccoli. Stir fry until the onion starts to soften. If the vegetables begin to stick, add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen things. Add the frozen peas and fry for one more minute.

Move the veggies to the outer edges of the wok, leaving an empty space in the center. Add 1 Tbsp. safflower oil in the center. Add the egg, piercing the yolk, but allowing the egg to simply set for a minute or two. Begin to break up the egg slowly, allowing the uncooked part to reach the pan's surface. Once mostly cooked through, break up the whole egg into bits, and stir it together with the veggies.

Add the tofu and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the cooked rice, tamari and mirin, mixing them in well. Remove from heat, and serve.

Serves 4-5.

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