“What will we do with all that grain?” I thought to myself when my husband brought home a 20-pound bag of rice. He acquired it during a “white elephant” Christmas gift swap last December. For those who haven't played, “white elephant” is a game of exchanging gifts by basically pulling them out of each other's hands.
The holiday “stealing” presents party was practically over when Jay arrived to his office late that day. Everyone had taken what they wanted and no one wanted a big bag of rice. It was something that couldn't be easily re-gifted just like the legendary white elephants given by kings of Thailand to their rivals. Unlike those rare and expensive to keep Thai mammals, our sona masoori rice from India turned out to be a tasty filler for our food budget holes and cracks.
The unwanted gift also encouraged us to culinary adventures as we started scooping rice down from that huge bag. At first we ate it plain, cooked and topped with a vegetarian version of lecsó that resembles ratatouille minus eggplant (you may remember from my previous post that Jay is not a big eggplant fan). This Hungarian classic in its original rich version clogs your veins with lard and bacon fat. In my opinion lescó doesn't really need any meat but let's go back to rice.
As time went by, imaginary trips with our free grain took us all over the culinary map. We explored the taste of South India, Spain, Cuba, Iran. Rice was a perfect sponge for a soupy chicken curry putting down the spicy fire of this Indian dish that landed on our unaccustomed tongues. The white grain turned yellow when cooked with saffron, meat, vegetables, beans and a dash of paprika. With a rabbit shortage at the grocery shop nearby, paella valenciana, or famous Spanish rice dish made only a single appearance giving place to an easy to assemble New World dish: arroz a la cubana con fríjoles negros, or black beans and rice Cuban style. Yellow was also the color of fragrant Persian rice pilaf with crisp “bottom of the pot” layer and sweet and nutty garnishes on top.
We ate rice almost daily: in soups, salads and sides. Any ricey leftovers turned the next day into exiting “new” meals like rice pudding, rice staffed peppers or rice balls. And fried rice became the signature dish chez Madigans soon after our dinner at Side Street Inn in Honolulu. The restaurant's take on this Asian staple combines hot linguiça (Portuguese pork sausage), salty dashi (Japanese soup stock) and sweet char siu (Chinese barbecued pork) into one beautiful plate which we tried to recreate.
Inspired by but not limited to the Side Street Inn's version of fried rice, we keep experimenting with other ethnic ingredients and at this point only a few more cups of sona masoori rice left at the bottom of that 20-pound bag.
recipe by Marta Madigan
serves 4 people as a side dish
2 cups cooked sona masoori or other medium-grain rice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ small link smoked kiełbasa, diced (optional)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced (optional)
1 small carrot, peeled, finely diced and blanched
½ cup fresh or frozen peas or 1 stick celery, finely diced
½ cup leftover baked chicken or bbq pork, diced (optional)
½ teaspoon sesame seed oil
1-2 tablespoon soy sauce (depending on the saltiness of the meat)
2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
In a large nonstick frying pan heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add eggs. When they set, break the eggs into clumps, remove to a bowl and set aside. Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, heat and add kiełbasa. Stir-fry till golden-brown then add onion, garlic and ginger. Stir constantly for a couple of minutes. Add carrot and peas (or celery). Cook for a few more minutes. Stir in chicken (or pork) and rice. Stir well to heat it up throughout. In the meantime mix sesame seed oil, soy and oyster sauce with sugar. Pour the mixture all over the rice. Stir in cooked eggs. Taste then add salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with scallions, stir and transfer to serving dish.