what to make when the cupboard is bare

How about fried rice?

fried rice dinner

The other night I was feeling stuck for what to cook for dinner. I didn’t want to take something out of the freezer, and I thought I should probably use up what was available in the fridge. Lately I’ve done very well with using up groceries and not throwing out too much food, but I find it takes a concerted effort to stay on top of leftovers. After a quick inspection of what food was on hand, I decided fried rice would be perfect. This is not like any fried rice you get in a restaurant. This is dinner – loads of veggies and meat with enough rice to justify the title. I do not have a recipe for this dish, so let me explain how I put things together.

First requirement, you pretty much need some leftover rice. You could cook rice, but if you’re going to do that, you might as well cook something else while you’re waiting. Fried rice is better with leftover rice, as the grains separate more easily with cold rice.  So, let’s assume you have some rice. I started with short grain brown rice. Just set it aside.

Next you need to select your protein. I had 3 leftover pork chops, and a little cooked bacon. Leftover chicken or turkey would be good, beef is nice, and frozen shrimp work well. Cut your protein into small bite size pieces and set aside. For aromatics you need onions and possibly some garlic, chopped into small pieces and set aside. Next find all the vegetables you want to include, such as broccoli, carrots, green beans, zucchini, celery, peppers, asparagus, mushrooms and even cabbage. You can use raw vegetables or cooked, but keep them separated as they are added at different times. Make sure they are cut into small pieces so they will cook or reheat quickly. I used broccolini, carrot and cabbage because that’s what I had on hand.

You need a little sauce, which you can make up with some of these ingredients: soy sauce, chicken stock, sherry, sesame oil.  I used soy sauce, white Zinfandel (ran out of sherry) and a splash of sesame oil. Mix together about one cup full. This liquid adds flavor and some moisture to the dish. You may not need it all.

Last item you need is an egg, depending how moist you like your fried rice. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whip with a fork. That’s it.

Now your Chinese meal is all “mise en place” (ready to go) and you can start cooking. This comes together very quickly. I use a flat bottom wok, but a large sauté pan would work as well. Heat a little cooking oil (neutral oil like canola or grape seed) over high heat. Add the onions and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add any raw vegetables you are using. Continue to stir occasionally until the veggies soften slightly.

onions and garlic

veggies added

veggies cooking

Quickly stir in the rice – as much as you like or as much as you have on hand – your choice. Pour on the sauce, stirring as you go. You don’t want everything soupy, just moistened with flavor.

rice added

Next add your protein and any cooked veggies you might be using. Stir together to heat through. If you didn’t use all the sauce, you may want to add it now. Pop a lid on for a couple of minutes, stir to check and as soon as everything is hot, you can turn off the heat.

meat added

beaten egg

fried rice - all cooked

Pour in the beaten egg, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t cook in lumps. Dish out and enjoy, knowing you have created a delicious meal and cleaned out odds and ends in your fridge at the same time. Feel free to garnish with hot sauce or more soy sauce if you are so inclined. I love that this dish is different every time I make it, and it is always delicious! Hope you give it a try.

12 thoughts on “what to make when the cupboard is bare

  1. Fried rice with egg is my all time favourite comfort food! your recipe with leftovers is a great idea 🙂


    1. Thanks. It can be fun and a challenge to work with leftovers, but always worthwhile.


  2. I have not made fried rice in so long and always find it such a satisfying meal — your post has me craving it! ~ Kat


  3. Fried rice and omelets are the greatest refrigerator cleaners in existence! Nice post, Terri!


    1. Thanks, Joe. Not exciting food, but delicious non the less. Happy New Year!


  4. I love eating leftovers. Trouble is, they tend to be unique and you’ll never get the same thing again.


  5. I will have to try this tonight. My husband and son are vegetarians, but I think it would still taste great, maybe with some tofu for protein. Thanks for the little nudge!


    1. I think the tofu addition would be great. I wouldn’t hesitate to try it that way! Let me know how it turns out.


  6. Your fried rice photograph looks delicious.


  7. Yum, this is my kind of cooking…. I love seeing what is on hand and then letting this food dictate the direction of the dish. There is something very satisfying about eating a meal that has had a touch of inspiration from some very simple (and often leftover) ingredients.


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