Fried rice is one of the great one-bowl meals, though this vegetarian version—packed with tender-crisp bok choy and kale and crispy nubs of fried garlic—is so good that you'll probably want to keep it in your repertoire as a side dish, as well. It'd go great with seafood, pork, or chicken.
As with all stir-frying, the trick to successful fried rice cooking is prepping your ingredients in advance and adding them in the right order so that everything comes together smoothly at the end.
But the real key to this recipe is the crispy fried garlic that garnishes it. This stuff is so good you'll want to make extra to keep on hand for sprinkling onto rice, ramen, or any stir-fried or steamed green vegetable. Once cooled, you can store it in an air-tight container at room temperature for a couple of months.
If you have a mini food processor, this is the perfect time to use it. Start by chopping a whole head of peeled garlic. Save 2 teaspoons of the chopped garlic for the fried rice. The rest will be deep fried.
A small saucepan is the best pot to use. Mix the garlic with a little bit of salt to help extract moisture, then heat up a quarter cup of oil. To test if the oil is ready, add a little bit of the garlic to the oil. When it starts to sizzle and bubble immediately, the oil is ready.
Add in the garlic, stir, and turn down the heat a little. You want the garlic to be golden brown and not burnt. Don't try to rush the process by turning up the heat—your garlic will burn. Your goal is a slow, steady sizzle so that the garlic dehydrates and browns evenly. Stir it regularly so that it cooks evenly. A soon as it starts to take on some color, get ready, because things move fast from here on out.
You'll want to have a fine mesh strainer, set in a heat-proof bowl or pan, ready to go.
As soon as the garlic hits golden brown, strain it out. Don't dilly-dally here, because the garlic will quickly carry over from perfectly sweet and fried to burnt and acrid.
As for that oil, keep it! It's just as versatile as the fried garlic, and perfect for stir-frying in. The garlic oil can be reserved in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a couple weeks.
Now for the actual stir-fry. We start with equal parts chopped kale and chopped bok choy. I like the mix of flavors the two hearty greens bring to the table, though you can use just one if you'd prefer.
Heat up a tablespoon of the garlic oil in a wok, and stir-fry the vegetables just until bright green and wilted.
In a Chinese kitchen with an ultra-powerful burner, you'd be able to add all of your ingredients in succession. In a Western kitchen, however, it's best to cook in batches. A soon as the kale and bok choy are wilted, I transfer them to a separate bowl and get the wok ready for the rice.
There's debate on the issue, but I prefer rice that's been cooled overnight for making fried rice. The grains are firmer (due to recrystallization of starch molecules) and the moisture content is lower, ensuring that the grains don't stick together.
If you want to cook this the same day, your best bet is to cook your rice, then spread it evenly on a flat surface to cool. A large flat bowl or a sheet pan is perfect for this. Let the rice cool for at least an hour. The longer it cools, the better and easier it'll be to stir-fry.
Before adding the rice to the wok, I briefly stir-fry some fresh minced garlic and a chopped bird's eye chili in some more garlic oil. Keep that oil on hand when you add the rice—you can add a few drops of it to help break up any rice that sticks in clumps or to the sides of the wok.
Once the rice is heated through and separated, stir the vegetables back in and you're on the home stretch. Season it with a tiny dash of soy sauce, some white pepper, and salt to taste, transfer it to a plate, sprinkle it (generously!) with garlic, and you're set.
It's a side dish so tasty and filling that it eats like a meal.
About the Author: I was born in Guangzhou, the birthplace of dim sum, and raised in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia. As a sibling-less child, cooking was a way to cure after school snack attacks and a way to keep myself entertain. That's how my love for food and cooking started, and it continues to grow. I blog at friedwontons4u.com and I am on twitter @friedwontons4u.