Although I usually only buy it when it is on sale or clearance, meat is one of the most expensive grocery items I buy. Therefore, in order to keep my food bills down, I try to prepare meals with little or no meat. I replace or supplement the meat with cheaper sources of protein such as grains and legumes or eggs.
One dish that my family loves to eat and I love to make is fried rice. Not only is it tasty, but it is cheap and easy to prepare. I often plan to make it a day or two after I’ve made rice and meat for something else then use the leftovers for the fried rice. I cook extra white rice, measure out what I need, and refrigerate it. I also chop and measure the meat I will need. This saves me a lot of time on fried rice night.
The key to making fried rice that is not gummy or gooey is using cold rice. This is why using leftover rice is so great. When I don’t have any rice leftover, I make a pot of rice the day before or that morning and refrigerate it until I’m ready to cook it.
Another reason this dish is super quick to make is that it uses frozen mixed vegetables. It is possible to use fresh vegetables if you want. Just stir-fry them a little before adding the rice.
If you don’t already have sesame oil in your pantry, you might be tempted to omit it or substitute with a different oil—DON’T! A jar of sesame oil is pretty pricey, but you only use a little at a time (I’ve had the same bottle forever), and it gives fried rice its distinct Asian flavor.
When I make fried rice, I make a big batch (about 10 cups, you may want to halve the recipe), and I make it in my 12-inch iron skillet. If you do not have an iron skillet, a wok or large frying pan will do. But I would advise everyone to invest in a good iron skillet. Always be sure your skillet and the oil are really hot before adding food.
For vegetarian fried rice, simply omit the chicken. For vegan, omit chicken and eggs and add tofu if desired.
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 lb. frozen mixed vegetables
1 c. meat (raw or cooked), chopped
6 c. cold white rice
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
¼ c. soy sauce
Heat skillet over medium-high heat and add ½ Tbsp. vegetable oil. Stir-fry eggs until set; cut up and set aside. Heat ½ Tbsp. vegetable oil and stir-fry meat (do this even if it is already cooked). Set aside. Heat remaining 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil. Stir-fry rice and vegetables until heated through, about 10 minutes depending on cookware and stove. Season with salt. Add meat and mix well. Stir in sesame oil, soy sauce, and sugar. Turn off heat; stir in eggs. Yields about 10 cups. Total cost: less than $3.00!!!
Note that it cost me less than $3.00 to make about 10 cups of fried rice!! The last time I made it, one batch fed my family of five plus a neighbor and we had leftovers for lunch the next day.