Sneaking it in

[Recipe: Fried Rice with Tofu and Vegetables]

Witnessed: One of my fellow co-op members giving away her onions. And not because she was in the mood for sharing, for being charitable. It had nothing to do with that and everything to do with the fact that, as she proclaimed loud and proud, she and her entire family are solidly not in the onion-loving camp.

Poor left-out, picked-out and despised onions. It’s so unfortunate, don’t you think, this bad rap that onions are always and forever getting? Not unfortunate for the onions, necessarily, because, much as they can make us cry, they don’t have feelings of their own. They probably don’t notice the routine snubs, the fact that they’re always the shunned ones, the kids in the back who, competent though they may be, are never picked for dodge ball just because they may smell a little funny.

So while the onions don’t mind, the humans who are repulsed by them, gently or not, are the ones who are missing out. Now, if you’re one of those onion maligners, please know that I’m not exactly here to talk you into onions (I wouldn’t appreciate anyone trying to talk me into chicken). But I would like to make my case that onions are not just pungent and piquant solo artists. In fact, they’re often at they’re very best when joining their particular talents with those of other ingredients. Take the layered flavors of risotto or soup or stir fry, for example. They often start with that pariah, the onion.

That’s how I use an onion in this fried rice. It’s probably the most surreptitious offering of onions in my repertoire – when chopped and mixed with rice, tofu, eggs and vegetables, nobody even suspects the onion is there. Not my younger sister, who is visiting for the summer, and not my girls, who have been known to refuse a meal solely on the basis of what they perceived as a strong onion presence.

Fried Rice with Tofu & Vegetables

Serves 4.

Brian used to make a version of this for me in our early days. I’ve since refined and codified it (sort of), so that now – onions notwithstanding – it’s a family favorite. It’s a super-easy dish that can come together in the flash that often represents weeknight dinner prep time. It can also be made at a more leisurely pace, step by step, while flipping through the Pottery Barn catalog and waiting for your diners to arrive home, then assembling it all just before serving.

1 C short-grain brown rice, cooked

Canola oil

1 med. onion, chopped

1 block extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced or cubed

3 cups steamed-but-firm vegetables (Leftovers are great, but this also works well with whatever’s in your frozen stash. Try any or all of the following: broccoli, peas, snow peas, mushrooms and peppers.)

4 to 6 eggs, lightly beaten

Sesame oil

1/8 C soy sauce, plus extra for serving

Fish sauce (optional)

Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

In a very large skillet, heat 1 tbsp. canola oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté gently until soft. Add tofu, along with more oil if your pan requires. Raise the heat to medium high and cook tofu, stirring only occasionally to allow browning. Lower the heat to medium, pushing the tofu mixture to one side of the pan or removing from pan entirely. When pan is cool enough, add the eggs. Stir eggs until curdles begin to form. Add cooked vegetables, rice and tofu mixture to pan, stirring eggs into the other ingredients until cooked. Finish with a couple drops of sesame oil and fish sauce (if using), soy sauce and a tablespoon or so of sesame seeds. Serve with additional soy sauce on the side.


9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Brittney said,

    It is very sad how people won’t eat onions. I recently read that Americans’ loathing for sulphuric foods, such as onions and garlic, contributes directly to our collectively sad state of health. Sulphuric foods play an important role in keeping your immune system healthy and functioning properly.

    Besides… they taste awesome and people are totally missing out!

  2. 2

    Elle said,

    I cannot imagine trying to cook without onions. Life would be boring without onions!

  3. 3

    Maddie said,

    I may not like onions very much, but from what I just read they sound very important. I’m sure they’re in foods I eat all the time and I don’t notice.

  4. 4

    cinnamonsugar said,

    I may not like onions very much but from what I just read they sound very important. I’m sure they’re in foods I have all the time and I don’t even know it.

  5. 5

    sarah said,

    I love onions. I love them in all forms. My 2 year old daughter smells me cutting them and comes and steals them before they can make it in the pan.

  6. 6

    I concur, I am not sure how I would cook without onions (and garlic for that matter) – they are like the backbone of the kitchen. Always bringing a wonderful flavor and aroma – making things smell like home – comforting and earthy.

  7. 7

    Katie said,

    Poor onions! Personally, I love them. They add a unique flavor and texture to dishes that I cannot compare to any other vegetable.

    We have fried rice a lot at my house – I’ll have to keep onions in mind for next time!

  8. 8

    BPC said,

    The Onion is one of the greatest things you can add to any meal to take it to that next level.

  9. 9

    Trisha said,

    I knew I wasn’t the lone onion lover! Thanks for the notes, all you like-minded people!

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