SOME PEOPLE remember Sunday family dinners with big pans of lasagne, a big roast beef or chicken, or maybe baked macaroni and cheese. Not me. I grew up in the New York suburbs and, as with many Jewish families, Chinese was our comfort food. On Sundays, we would all gather at the China Quarter in Tenafly, New Jersey, where the kids would drink Shirley Temples and the waiter knew to bring extra rice and bowls of the sliced scallions my grandfather loved. For me, comfort food has been and always will be the Chinese-American Cantonese food we enjoyed at those dinners: egg rolls, fried rice, hong-shu beef and shrimp with lobster sauce.
The China Quarter is gone now, but I still make many dinners inspired by the food and flavors I remember from those dinners, and the easiest one by far is fried rice. I haven’t quite cracked the secret of the hong-shu beef, but fried rice I’ve got down. I jettison the green peas, preferring Chinese vegetables, or, in a pinch, whatever I have around. You can start with leftover rice or freshly cooked rice, white or brown, but use a short- or medium-grain rice; long grain rice gets hard when you chill it. I start by sautéing sliced or diced vegetables in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil; I add a generous amount of thinly sliced cooked chicken—whatever leftover meat you have will do as long as it doesn’t have a different flavor profile—then I add the rice. Everything is sautéed together with low-sodium soy sauce and toasted sesame oil to taste. I push the fried rice to one side of the pan, and scramble a few eggs in the space I’ve cleared. The whole thing gets mixed together and dinner’s ready. My one last piece of advice is to pick a few items and stick to them—you don’t want too many elements. Right now I have two favorite combinations I seem to be making all the time, one picky-eater friendly and one more sophisticated.
Kid-friendly Fried Rice: It’s made with rice, grated carrots (cook until they just start to brown, so delicious!), sliced chicken, low-sodium soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and eggs. If your kids will eat more vegetables, there’s nothing to stop you from adding some small florets of cooked broccoli or diced steamed green beans.
Chinese Cabbage and Mushroom Fried Rice: Put together rice, sliced scallions, sliced shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced shanghai or bok choy, all sautéed until tender, sliced chicken, low-sodium soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and eggs.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks,” a/k/a Stephanie Sedgwick, addresses dinner ideas every Monday. You can see earlier suggestions by searching for My Dinner With in the Search box at the top of the page.