Mexican Fried Rice, Van-life Cooking at a Time of Uncertainty

Last night for supper I prepared a rice dish that was inspired by both Chinese Fried Rice and the delicious Persian dish, Baghali Polo.

Creating new dishes has always been relaxing and fun for me and, during these days of enforced “sheltering in place,” I’ve set myself the goal of making the best use of what food I already have in the cupboard. Normally I shop for groceries several times a week, but my plan for the next month is to hunker down and use what I have in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. These are skills I perfected during the two-year road trip that is the subject of my upcoming memoir, Wherever the Road Leads. Often, we didn’t know when or where we would find the next grocery store or open market. Occasionally my small cupboard offered nothing more than a few cans and a bag of pasta. Other times, after a visit to a local market, I would have a surplus of food. Our mini-refrigerator could barely house fresh meat, eggs, and dairy, so produce was stored in tubs and bags on the floor of the van. There the veggies and fruit gradually aged and threatened to spoil before I could use them all.

My early cooking experiences in the van, often far from a grocery store, taught me to be creative with ingredients and use everything. I pride myself that I know what is in my refrigerator and cupboard and seldom allow anything—not even a couple tablespoons of chopped nuts or half a jalapeño—to go to waste or spoil. My “van-life” cooking skills will come in handy during these difficult times as my usually well-stocked home larder begins to empty.

Yesterday, I searched my refrigerator shelves for ingredients to create a side-dish for a portion of fresh salmon purchased at Costco earlier in the week, the last such trip I intend to indulge in for some time.

Here is what I found:
• Cooked rice left from the previous night’s Green Curry. Whenever I steam plain rice to go with an Indian or Chinese dish, I make extra. Pre-cooked rice can be stored in the refrigerator for several days and also freezes well. Best of all, cold, cooked rice is preferable for dishes like fried rice.
•  a 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro (also left from the night before).
• a fresh jalapeño chili that was starting to get wrinkled.
• a half of a red-pepper, also showing a few wrinkles.

The pantry offered up an onion, garlic, a can of kidney beans, and flakes of dried chilies.

Preparation of this Mexican Fried Rice is easy. Get everything set out in bowls ahead of time and toss it all together in 5 minutes when you’re ready to eat—enough for a side dish for 2 or 3 or a vegetarian main dish for one hungry person.

Set aside in separate bowls:
• About 1/2 cup chopped onion and 3 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 and 1/2 cups cold cooked rice and 1/2 of a 15.5 oz. can of kidney beans or black beans. Sprinkle with a pinch of chili flakes (optional).
• Salt and pepper. (plus a few sprinkles of ground cumin or even chili powder, if you like.)
• Seeded and diced red pepper (approx. 1/2 cup) and half a large jalapeño seeded and diced, more if you like it spicy.
• Up to a 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro or a combination of cilantro and chopped green onion..

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Sauté the chopped onion and garlic on medium heat until soft. Add the rice and beans. Stir fry for about 5 minutes on high to heat through, but don’t let it scorch. Sprinkle with spices if you want. Add chopped red peppers and jalapeño and stir fry another 3 minutes or so. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cilantro and the green onion if you have it. Stir and toss for another minute. Turn off heat and serve.

Sorry, no photo this time as I had no idea while I was cooking that I would write this. Please let me know if you’d like to see more “Van-Life Cooking” blogs.


2 responses to “Mexican Fried Rice, Van-life Cooking at a Time of Uncertainty”

  1. Theresa Girdlestone

    Sounds tasty to go with salmon! Enjoy!

    1. Katie Slattery

      Thanks, Theresa. Stay healthy and strong.

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