Last year my friend Grace Young gave me what turned out to be the most useful gift of 2012: a wok, and a lesson in using it. We shared some in-depth cooking lessons from Grace last year, like how to buy and season a wok, and how to stir fry chicken. I've fallen in love with my wok, and I use it weekly to cook vegetables and supper dishes. So it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw reader requests this week for fresh recipes for lunches.
Here's a non-Chinese twist on the stir fry that you can make in your wok or in a big sauté pan, with brown rice, snappy asparagus, and flavors of lemon and cashew. It's been my go-to dinner (and lunch) this week!
This was the first thing that came to mind when I saw katvetrano's request: "Packable lunches that aren't grain salads or sandwiches." This stir fry is grain heavy, obviously, but it's also packed with other textures and flavors (plus it's hot, unlike a grain salad). It reheats beautifully in the microwave or on the stove, and finding all that fresh, crisp asparagus in your lunch feels like a spring gift.
I used Grace Young's fried rice guide as a template for this, obviously (see her fried rice tutorial here) and it demonstrates how I've been learning to riff on stir fry recipes this past year. It's such an adaptable technique, cooking vegetables so quickly, and folding in rice. The brown rice is hearty and satisfying, and if you want you can add cooked chicken or tofu to round it out even more. I like to finish it with a drizzle of hazelnut (or walnut) oil for a nutty depth of flavor.
Fried Brown Rice with Asparagus, Bell Pepper & Cashews
4 garlic cloves, very roughly chopped
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry white wine
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Vegetables and Rice
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
1 large yellow bell pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cups cooked brown rice
2 tablespoons peanut or grapeseed oil
1 cup cooked chicken or tofu cubes, optional
1/2 cup chopped green scallions
1/2 cup whole cashews
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 lemon, zested
1 tablespoon hazelnut or walnut oil, optional
Set out several small bowls. In the first, mix the garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. In the second, mix the salt and pepper. In a third, whisk together the sauce ingredients. Set aside.
Have the asparagus and bell pepper ready and chopped, together in a bowl. Have the rice ready in a separate bowl.
Set the bowls of vegetables, aromatics, seasoning, sauce, and rice near your stove. Also, have a very small bowl of water next to the stove.
Turn on a stove burner, as high as it will go. Set a 14-inch wok over this high heat burner. To determine when the wok is hot enough, start flicking droplets of water from the small bowl into the pan after 30 seconds. As soon as a bead of water evaporates within 1 to 2 seconds of contact, the wok is heated and ready for stir-frying. Do not overheat the wok.
Pull the wok off the heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Pick up the pan and carefully swirl it to coat the bottom and sides. (If the wok smokes wildly the moment you add the oil, you've overheated the wok. Remove the wok from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. When it's cool enough to handle carefully wipe away the oil with paper towels, wash the wok, and start again.)
With the wok back over the heat, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir fry for 10 seconds or until fragrant.
Add the asparagus and bell pepper and stir fry for 1 minute. Swirl the remaining tablespoon of oil into the wok.
Add the brown rice and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, breaking up the rice with the spatula until it is heated through.
Season the rice with the salt and pepper, then pour the sauce around the edges of the wok and stir-fry for 30 more seconds.
Add the cooked chicken and tofu, if using, as well as the scallions and cashews. Stir fry for 30 seconds or until the chicken is heated through.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro, lemon zest, and hazelnut oil. Serve immediately.
• Stir-Fried Rice in a 12-inch Skillet: If you are cooking in a 12-inch stainless steel skillet, halve the recipe to prevent rice from falling out of the pan
• Using Fresh Rice: This recipe is best with day-old brown rice. But if the craving hits and you don't have any prepared rice, you can make fresh rice, spread it out on a sheet pan, and refrigerate to cool before using in this recipe.
This post was requested by katvetrano for Reader Request Week 2013!
(Images: Faith Durand)