vegansaurus!

06/16/2009

Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal of the Week: Spanish-Style Fried Rice!  »

so fancy, the rice!I often find myself between shopping trips, with a not entirely cohesive assortment of vegetables and staples to work with. Frequently in this situation I’ll make a stir fry, or greens and rice, or slap together some sandwiches* and call it a day. But sometimes if you squint and turn your head just so, the stuff in the fridge kind of pulls together in your imagination. Or, you know, you made sandwiches yesterday and it’s time to eat something with vegetables in it.

In this case, I put together a Spanish-style fried rice with a little more class than the name “fried rice” leads one to expect. I’ve learned three important things about class that I now pass on to you:
(1) nice presentation counts for a lot.**
(2) nice presentation can be surprisingly easy.
(3) nice presentation can actually enhance the dish, in a literal sense.

Here’s what you’ll want to use. Incidentally, the nice thing about this recipe is that you can use practically any vegetables you may have sitting around, so take mine as a guide rather than strict doctrine—deviation from which will earn you a swift yardstick to the palm.
1 jalapeno (substitute any other fresh hot pepper, or green bell if you don’t like the heat)
3 cloves garlic (or more depending on your predilection)
1/4 package (1/2 cup) soyrizo (substitute crumbled tofu, but if so, add much more seasoning)
~1/2 tsp herbes de Provence (substitute dried basil, or whatever you have on hand)
~1/2 tbsp smoked paprika (this is probably the most essential ingredient; substitute regular paprika if you must)
2 rainbow carrots (or other crunchy vegetable—celery, for instance)
2 gypsy peppers (or other crunchy vegetable—red bell peppers would do well)
juice of half a lemon
1 large heirloom tomato (or two supermarket tomatoes, as they tend to be smaller)
2 cups cooked rice
~16 big leaves of romaine lettuce (or any other lettuce, but ideally one with flavor—no iceberg here)

Cook the rice according to your favorite method.*** Make sure it’s slightly moist, or at least not dry, at the end.

Meanwhile, prepare your veggies. Seed and finely dice the jalapeno, and finely mince the garlic. Heat a generous couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat, then add the garlic and jalapeno. Stir occasionally. While they’re cooking, get as far as you can in preparing the rest of the veggies. Roll-cut or dice the carrots, seed and chop the peppers, and thoroughly wash and dry the lettuce. Lastly, cut the tomato in a large dice.

By this point your garlic should be pale gold. Add the herbes de Provence, stir, and after a minute add the soyrizo. Mush it all around to break it up, and mix it into the stuff already in the pan. Then add the smoked paprika. This is where the bulk of your time will be spent while the rice finishes cooking, so you might as well finish prepping the veggies. Stir occasionally, but be sure to let some nice fond (browned crispy stuff) build up on the bottom. Every time you stir, scrape it up to expose new soyrizo to crisp.

About three minutes before the rice is done, add the carrots. One minute later, add the peppers. Two minutes later (and if you’re following along you already know the end of this sentence), add the rice. Stir until the rice is thoroughly integrated. Finally, add the diced tomato, and stir again. The heat of the other ingredients will cook the tomato, so as soon as you feel ready, it’s time to plate.

Make a radial arrangement of lettuce leaves on each plate. Sprinkle each leaf with salt, pepper, and some high-quality olive oil. Then spoon a serving of rice into the center of each plate.

There are several things going on here. The rice mixture should be hot enough coming out of the pan that it will slightly wilt the lettuce, making for an unexpected (and interesting) eating experience. This also enables it to take up some of the flavor of the rice. Meanwhile, the rice is absorbing that high-quality olive oil, giving its flavor a delicate finish. In the end, you’ll have an invisible three-layer stack: rice mixture; rice mixture with olive oil flavor; and lettuce with rice mixture flavor.

There are plenty of ways to vary the recipe. The first thing I thought of (immediately after making it) was to grill the lettuce. Grilling lettuce adds a smoky flavor, which compliments the rice, and wilts and sweetens it, so you could use something more bitter—like radicchio or endive—to great effect. You could also change the flavor profile entirely by using different seasonings. Try oregano and tomato paste for something closer to Mexican rice, or drizzle the lettuce with balsamic vinegar for a different kind of richness.

As always, omnivores don’t get to have all the fun! We too can use every part of the animal vegetable:
The innards and stems of jalapeno make a great rabbit repellent! Rub it on stuff s/he chews but shouldn’t (Nibbler!!) and marvel at the immediate change in behavior.
The carrot peels and tops are a vital component in stock, or rabbit snacks.
The pepper innards can be used for stock as well, or fed to the rabbit.
Same goes for the tomato stem.
The lemon peel can be used in any number of baking or confectionary projects.

Make this, people; you’ll be glad you did. Tell us how it goes in the comments.

* Note that my sandwiches are basically works of art that take upward of 20 minutes to assemble. Slow Food’s got nothing on me.
** Although poor presentation can often be overcome by good photography.
*** I’m not going to tell you how to cook rice. This is not that kind of post.

All photos by Joel!

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