It started with some broccoli. My daughter eats only the florets, so as usual, I went to cut them off to steam for her, throwing away the stalks in the process. But this time I stopped myself.
I had read some shocking news recently that made me think twice: Americans waste a whopping 25 percent of available food. That’s the equivalent of one pound per person every day, a number that accounts for not only broccoli stalks tossed at home but also unsold rotisserie chickens dumped at the market and half-eaten trays of lasagne discarded after a catered affair. With the cost of food making a bigger dent in everyone’s pocketbook, wasting less at home seems like a no-brainer. Plus, it turns out that wasting less has been identified as the number one way to reduce your carbon “food” print. So I rescued the broccoli stalks—a drop in the stockpot for saving the planet, but a drop nonetheless. Surely I could find some way to use them.
Little did I know that the nearly rejected broccoli would lead me on a fantastic culinary journey. While pondering its possibilities, I found myself thinking about the odds and ends in my fridge that were in danger of being tossed—the last of a bag of baby carrots, most of a red bell pepper. I could make a fabulous omelet or frittata, or perhaps some kind of chopped salad. With a different mindset, I saw all of these discardable bits as treasures waiting to be turned into something satisfying and scrumptious. But what? The light bulb came in the form of leftover rice from Chinese takeout. Fried rice! Just those words get my mouth watering. And what better way to use all those little leftovers? It’s the very reason fried rice was invented.
The trouble with fried rice is that it’s usually pretty greasy and salty, with more cons than pros nutritionally. Not something you would consider healthful. But a few tweaks to the standard dish and you can keep all the crave-able deliciousness without the downsides.
First, upgrade the rice from white to brown. I love brown rice’s nutty taste and slight chewiness. And you just can’t argue with its whole-grain antioxidant power and fiber. My favorite route to brown rice is to order it with Chinese food, but you can certainly cook some up yourself. Either way, bear in mind that the cooked rice has to be well chilled so the starch hardens and makes it fry-able. Use fresh rice and you wind up with a gummy mess.
Next, load the fried rice up with vegetables (and even fruit like pineapple or mandarin oranges) to get a big satisfying portion full of color and texture and nutrients.
To make it a complete meal in a bowl, add lean protein—Canadian bacon (which gives classic smoky pork flavor with very little fat), chicken, shrimp, ham, and tofu all work wonderfully. And instead of relying on salt for flavor, amp up with healthful seasonings like fresh ginger, scallions, garlic, sesame oil, and chile peppers. Go easy on the salt by using lower-sodium soy sauce. Cook it all in just a little canola oil, which is ideal for Asian-style cooking because it’s neutral in flavor and takes the heat well. It’s also rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 fat.
My broccoli-stalk-inspired treasure hunt ultimately led me to a collection of five freezer and fridge finds for my fried rice. Besides the broccoli, carrots, and red bell pepper, a peek in the freezer revealed half-full bags of corn and edamame. Perfect. The ideal ingredients for a satisfying, one-bowl meal studded with tasty goodies. I named it Five-Treasure Fried Rice.
It’s amazing how simply thinking about food differently can do so much. With a fresh look, you can use the last of your week’s produce to help you save money and eat greener and more healthfully. Not to mention the fact that you get to indulge in fried rice.