Chinese restaurants have always been a good place to get a meatless meal. You can count on fried rice for that since it’s dependably bountiful, inexpensive and filling. It’s also a go-to fast weeknight dinner at home, where you can put a hearty whole grain at the center.
Whole grains are some of our most ancient foods, and they have stories to tell.
Take freekeh (FREE-kuh), for example. Back in 2300 B.C., a village in the Mediterranean was attacked by marauders who set the city on fire, as well as all the unripe wheat. But because the wheat was green, only the chaff burned.
In an ironic twist, the remaining wheat was so tasty that burning green wheat became a tradition. With a slightly smoky taste and a chewy texture, freekeh is a smart addition to a meatless meal. With double the protein and nine times the fiber of white rice, it’s a smart whole-grain swap.
At your house, you can use some lovely seasonal vegetables, like asparagus and fresh snow peas, to make a freekeh version of fried rice. Make the recipe your own with your favorite veggies, tofu or an extra egg. The hearty whole grain more than satisfies.
Find freekeh at the supermarket or co-op, sold with boxes and bags of alternative grains, such as quinoa.
Freekeh Fried Rice
Serves 2 to 4.
Note: Use cracked freekeh for this, which is easier to find and faster to cook than whole kernel. As long as you are cooking the grain, you might as well cook twice as much, and save half to use later in the week, in a simple salad for lunch or to stir into soup. To make this vegan, use tofu instead of eggs. You’ll find freekeh sold usually in bags or boxes, where alternative grains (such as quinoa) are sold. From Robin Asbell.
• 1/2 c. freekeh or brown rice
• 1 c. water
• 2 tbsp. soy sauce
• 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
• 1 tbsp. sugar
• 1 tsp. dark sesame oil
• 2 eggs (vegans can sub 1/2 block extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled)
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. sugar
• 4 tsp. canola oil, divided
• 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, chopped
• 1 garlic clove, chopped
• 1 bunch (1 lb.) asparagus, separate tips and stems, and slice stems
• 1 large carrot, peeled and halved, then sliced on a diagonal
• 2 c. snow peas, trimmed
• 1/2 c. water chestnuts, sliced
• 3 large green onions, sliced on a diagonal
• 1/2 c.roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
To cook the freekeh: Place 1 cup water in a heavy 1-quart pot with a lid and put it over high heat. When the water boils, add the freekeh and return to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and let cook for 20 minutes (brown rice will cook for 40 minutes). When all the water is absorbed, take the pan off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes, covered. Then uncover, fluff, and let cool.
To make the fried freekeh: In a cup, stir the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and dark sesame oil, and reserve.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the salt and sugar.
In a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 teaspoons canola oil, swirling the pan to coat, then add the egg mixture. Use a spatula to scrape and stir the eggs, just until lightly cooked. Transfer the eggs to a plate and crumble them coarsely with your spatula. (Vegans: Crumble the tofu with salt and sugar and scramble it in the hot oil, and leave it in the pan as you proceed.)
Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the hot pan. Add the ginger, garlic, asparagus stems (not the tips yet) and the carrots and stir for 1 minute. Add the snow peas, asparagus tips and water chestnuts, and stir for about 30 seconds, then add the cooked freekeh and drizzle over the soy sauce mixture. Stir well to coat with sauce. Add the cooked egg, if using, and stir until the grain is hot and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Serve immediately, topped with green onions and chopped peanuts, if desired.
Nutrition information per each of 4 servings w/peanut/onion garnish:
Calories 360 Fat 18 g Sodium 640 mg
Carbohydrates 38 g Saturated fat 3 g Total sugars 10g
Protein 16 g Cholesterol 95 mg Dietary fiber 9 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 starch, 1 carb, 1 ½ high-fat protein, 1 fat.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.