I go away for one week and return to find that, not only have asparagus made their annual arrival in local markets, but everyone’s had more than their share of it already. “I’ve eaten asparagus for the past four days,” moaned a friend at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket Saturday. “I’m over it.” Well, I have some catching up to do, so rather than dawdle on an elaborate preparation of it, whipped up this quick, ridiculously easy go-to favorite of mine, fried rice.
Feeding a lot of people? Make some fried rice. Feeding just yourself, for a snack? Making fried rice works for that, too. It’s ideal when there’s leftover rice laying around, because the grains will be dryer and crisp better on a pan. But you can make rice just for the event; add slightly less water this time and let it air-dry after steaming for a bit. Here, you want each grain of rice to be separate, not bound in gluey clumps.
Brown rice, with its more chewy texture and nutty taste, works great for fried rice when leftover or not. Since I prefer it for most any rice dish, I’ll more likely have it leftover as well. This is probably the only difference from my version of fried rice and that of my mom, who made it frequently growing up. But the real key about making good fried rice is not in the actual rice; it’s in a little seasoning of white pepper throughout.
White pepper adds distinct flavor aside from its being pale, and hence less conspicuous in eggs or rice (an ideal in Chinese cooking). It’s quite tingly on the nose, sure to make one sneeze if some gets inhaled during a smell-test. It’s also commonly used finely ground rather than in whole peppercorns that are coarsely crushed (for that inconspicuousness).
So I’ll use white pepper (and salt) to season some beaten eggs before scrambling, then again to season the whole pan of fried rice with toward the end. A common misconception is that glugs of soy sauce are stirred into fried rice; my mom never touched the bottle of soy sauce for this dish. I like to add a splash just for a little color and umami kick once the rice is gently seared, but not too much lest they discolor the scrambled eggs (a misnomer, of course).
With such a light-tasting peasant dish like this, asparagus fits right in. Super fresh and barely cooked, these chunky pieces of the springtime stalk add a toothsome bite and burst with juice. Consider it a vegetable substitute for the main protein in fried rice, be it leftover bits of roast pork or tofu. Indeed, asparagus has a lot of protein for a vegetable, about five grams per serving.
So do peas, and this was a classic addition to all fried rices from my past: a scatter of (frozen) peas directly into the pan that would plump up in the snowfall of rice added shortly after. No matter what else you add to your fried rice, you can be assured a touch of green and protein thanks to them. But now that it’s spring, I thought I’d triple the green quotient in this dish by using three seasonal ingredients: peas, asparagus and fresh scallions.
Fried Rice with Asparagus & Peas
(makes about 4 servings)
4 cups cooked brown rice (can be up to 3 days old and a little dried out)
4 eggs, beaten
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut to 1/2″ pieces on a bias
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas, boiled for 2-3 minutes and strained
2-3 scallions, sliced on a bias
salt and ground white pepper to taste
dash of soy sauce (optional)
2-3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
Season eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat a wide, heavy-bottomed chef’s pan or wok and add a tablespoon of the oil over high heat. Pour in the eggs and stir around on the pan with chopsticks. Don’t touch for a few seconds to let pieces lightly brown. Once just cooked through and lightly browned in some patches, transfer the scrambled eggs to a bowl.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and continue heating over a high flame. Toss the asparagus pieces in the pan and season with a couple pinches of salt. Stir occasionally for about 1 minute, and transfer to a bowl.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, and the rice. Stir to break up clumps and season with salt and white pepper. Don’t touch a few seconds to let parts lightly brown. Add optional splash of soy sauce and mix rice thoroughly immediately after.
Return the scrambled eggs and asparagus to the pan and add the peas. Stir to combine thoroughly and taste for seasoning, adding any extra salt or white pepper as desired. Remove from heat and toss in the scallions. Serve immediately.
(for 4 servings)
4 cups cooked rice: $1.00
4 eggs: $1.00
1 bunch asparagus: $4.00
1/2 cup peas (frozen): $0.50
2 scallions: $0.50
salt, white pepper, vegetable oil: $0.30
Four brownie points: This is a well-rounded, complete meal that really satisfies. With eggs for a little richness, brown rice for extra fiber and protein, and fresh asparagus for Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, and more fiber and protein, there’s hardly an unhealthy moment in it.
Seven maple leaves: While the star ingredient, asparagus, was just in season from local farms, the peas (another springtime treat) were yet to be found so I substituted them with ones from the freezer aisle. The scallions were fresh from the Greenmarket, too. Organic, if not local, brown rice is an easy staple to find in stores and stock up on, and the eggs were from my own coop.