crowded rice

I’ve told you this before, but we live down the street from a Chinese restaurant. It’s not the kind of family joint where we want to go hang out with Lucy. The bar is usually filled with old sailors (or at least in my mind they are aged sailors, come to the Chinese bar to wet their aged whistles with vodka) and middle-aged women wearing too much makeup and too little clothing. But it is the kind of joint that has decent food, and we find ourselves ordering takeout from them when I’m too pooped to cook and the fridge is empty.

I know that we shouldn’t order what we do (pork fried rice and General Tso’s chicken), but we always end up with the same soggy cartons and the same greasy belly. But I really can’t help it—I love their fried rice. And my darling daughter, who protests when we don’t feed her exactly what we’re eating, loves it too. This is where it becomes problematic when we have our junk food days and we don’t want her eating the same crap that we do.

So I got to thinking. I know, I know. I don’t think often. But I got to thinking: how can I make a healthy version of fried rice that we can all feel good about eating? Our dear pals at the Chinese joint stuff their rice full of barbecued pork, little bits of egg, tiny lumps resembling vegetables, and likely lots of MSG. What can I put in mine that will be kind to our waistlines and our taste buds?

Wow. That last line they should use in a Healthy Choice commercial. I apologize, my friends.

Corniness aside, if you’d like to join me in my quest for healthy fried rice, you’ll need the following:

Lots of vegetables: carrots, half an onion, garlic and broccoli rabe (or regular broccoli). I snatched a leek in lieu of green onions for this recipe since green onions scare me. I found a large insect in a green onion once. I don’t want to talk about it.

Also grab some frozen peas (classic fried rice-style) and shelled edamame.

Chop your leek (or green onions) thinly. Pretty as a Pantone card.

Chop your carrots…

…along with your onion and broccoli.

Next, you’ll need some chicken, if you’re the meat eatin’ type. Pork or shrimp would also work well.

I know I talk entirely too much about meat on this blog. But I have to say one thing more while I’m talking about chicken: chicken should not smell like anything. You should not open your little plastic/styrofoam package of chicken and have it smell chickeny. That means the chicken is icky and not fresh. And moreover, it will taste chickeny. Which is also not good and totally ruins the taste of your food.

Oh, and also rinse chicken in cold water and pat dry before you cook it. Always.

Stepping off my chicken soapbox now.

Chop into 1/2″ pieces and season with salt and pepper.

Next, mince a few cloves of garlic.

Heat one tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, toss in the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. We’re making garlic oil, folks.

Toss in the chicken and brown until the pieces are cooked all the way through, or about 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, grab three eggs and mix equal parts soy sauce and water. We’ll use these in a minute.

Once the chicken is cooked transfer it to a plate.

In the same hot pan that you cooked the chicken in, toss in your carrots, broccoli and onion (no leeks/green onions yet). Stir fry for 3-4 minutes until tender.

Throw in your frozen stuff about halfway through cooking. Remove the veggies and transfer to a plate.

In the same skillet (this pan is getting a workout today, eh?), throw in the leeks. Pour in the beaten eggs…

…and stir for a few moments until the eggs are fully cooked.

Now then. Toss in the cooked veggies, chicken and cold rice. The key to good fried rice, I am told, is to use day old rice that has dried out a bit. Turn up the heat to high and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, to get the rice a bit crispy.

Add the soy sauce/water mixture and cook just until the liquid has been absorbed.

Lovely. Test it out—you may want to add more soy, a pinch of salt, or a little spice.

The result? Crispy rice packed with chicken, veggies and flavor (not MSG). I’m calling it “crowded” because it’s not really fried—we only used one tablespoon of oil for the chicken. Plus it’s crowded full of vegetable goodness. Plus I just heard Don’t Dream it’s Over on the radio. So there you go.

I pretended it was takeout and ate it with chopsticks.

I really, really loved this rice. Not only because it was delicious, but because I knew exactly what was in it.

And what was in it was scrumptious.

The vegetables tasted like vegetables, the chicken tasted like chicken (but not at all chickeny—there’s a difference), and none of it tasted like it came from a greasy takeout carton.

Who knew fried rice could be fresh and good for you?

I’m officially a believer.

And so is my daughter. Who ate an entire bowl of this stuff. From chopsticks. While wearing a milk mustache.


Crowded Rice

  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 head broccoli or 1 bunch broccoli rabe, sliced
  • 2 carrots sliced into 1/8″ rounds
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4-5 cups cooked day-old rice
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame (soy beans)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Heat oil over medium high heat in a large pan until it begins to shimmer. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add chicken and saute until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

In the same pan, add onion, broccoli and carrots. Saute for 3-4 minutes until tender. Add edamame and peas and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a plate.

Add leeks to the pan and pour in eggs. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes or until eggs are lightly browned. Add chicken, vegetables and rice. Turn heat to high and cook for 3-4 minutes stirring constantly until rice is slightly crisped. Mix soy sauce with water and stir into rice mixture. Cook just until liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6-8.


  1. I love that picture of Lu.

  2. Danielle says:

    My uncle, an amazing chef, taught me the trick to fried rice is Oyster Sauce as opposed to all soy sauce. Definitely enhances the flavor.

  3. That looks like a great “cook from what you have in the fridge” meals. Pretty picture! I just started an online cooking show, Swedish Home Cooking. Please check it out!

    • rainyd01 says:

      You’re right, Linn—it would make a great “leftovers transformed” meal. Very cool show—you’re brave to do videos!

  4. Jennifer says:

    This looks amazing and pretty simple to make I can’t wait to try this!

  5. I’ll have to try some of these variations on my usual recipe. I usually use hulled barley instead of rice, though: more fiber/minerals than white rice (or brown rice, for that matter). The texture’s a bit different, but it grows on you.

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