Life has been busy recently. With a million projects on my plate (maybe more like eight), the ability to whip together quick, cheap dinners has never been at such a premium. I’ve been relying on favorite easy staples like Pasta with Whatever’s in the Vegetable Drawer, Anything with a Fried Egg, and Soups Invented by Busy Moms. Also: leftover rice tossed with vegetables and eggs, aka Fried Rice.
Week after busy week, I congratulated myself on my resourcefulness, bragged to friends about how rarely Alex and I got take-out or ate at restaurants only because we had no food in the house. And then a new quarter-life acquaintance, to whom I’d just been describing the saving-on-money/time/space mission of this site, looked me in the eye and said, pointedly, “We’re so busy! You really expect us to have the time to cook??”
“Uh, if you just take the time to stock your pantry, it’s really not so bad,” I stuttered.
And then I knocked the cat off my tongue and found my stride, explaining how if you emphasize to yourself that cooking is a priority, anyone can find a way to make time in the kitchen every week, whether it’s for a bunch of hours on Sunday or a few minutes every week day.
But this exchange did get me worried that maybe my statement wasn’t self-evident. Did I have some superpower that afforded me the knack of concocting decent, relatively healthful, and pretty quick dinners at least four times a week? Ultimately, I dismissed the idea that what I do is out of the ordinary. And I continue to figure that anyone with the right mindset can get in the habit of cooking, too. Still, I want to be sure to post here about the meals I make that are super easy and quite quick.
This hearty fried rice did require some advance thought–I cooked extra rice when we had enchiladas earlier in the week–but once I was in the kitchen, it took less than 20 minutes to make. It’s satisfying and vegetarian, and a savory reminder to you readers that in between the layer cakes and the fancy French toast, my kitchen turns out dozens of humble but delicious meals for one or two that can smartly fit into busy quarter lives.
From my kitchen, makin’ meals in no time, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Vegetarian Fried Rice with Shiitakes and Cashews
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side
3 tablespoons canola, vegetable, or other neutral oil
about 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms (or a mix of mushrooms), wiped clean and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 large carrot, cut in a half inch dice
1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
3 cups cooked rice (white or brown), cooled*
1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste
3 eggs, beaten with 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cashews, plus a few whole cashews for garnish
Note: This dish is best made with leftover rice. However, if you don’t have any, make about 1 1/2 cups of rice according to package directions. When it’s cooked, spread it out on a baking sheet and put it in the fridge to dry out and cool for at least 10 minutes. Then proceed with the recipe.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly until wilted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add half the garlic and about 1/4 teaspoon salt, then stir and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl.
Add about 1 tablespoon oil, swirl it around, then add the onion, scallions, and carrots and stir fry for 1-2 minutes, until softened. Add the rest of the garlic and the ginger, and stir-fry for another minute or two until fragrant. Sprinkle in another 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Add the rice and toss it around, so it gets incorporated into the veggies and some parts get a bit brown and crispy. Add the soy sauce, and toss to distribute. Mix in the mushrooms.
Push the whole mixture over to one half of the pan and pour in the eggs. Let them cook for a minute, then use a spatula to pull the eggs in, scrambling them into large pieces. Continue to cook and scramble until they’re fully cooked, then toss the eggs together with the rice. Add the cashews and toss. Taste for salt, adding a bit more salt or soy sauce to suit your palate.
Scoop into bowls, garnish with a few cashews, and eat immediately.