Thai Fried Rice

When I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand last year, I went to a cooking school owned by one of the country’s leading celebrity chefs. I watched as he threw one, two, three – no, five — Thai chiles into a bowl of Tom Yam Goong soup that he was making as a demonstration.

These little chiles were so small – one-fourth the size of my beloved jalapeno — Ha! I thought, I’m from Texas. Bring on the heat!

Then he sent each of us off to make our own, at our individual, open-air cooking stations.

I, too, put five Thai chiles into my soup. When I tasted it, I immediately felt the chiles’ intense, sharp burn searing its way down my throat into my stomach, like a match to gasoline.

I later learned that these chiles have 20 times the heat of a jalapeno.

After class, I retreated to my room at the Four Seasons, and drank all of the Cokes, then the Sprites, in the minibar, and settled in for an evening of HBO.

I swore off Thai food completely. Until the following evening, that is, when I felt like a bit of comfort food was in order. I found just the thing on the room service menu – Thai Fried Rice, made with tofu and broccoli, and Thai basil.

It was perfect. Fresh, light, healthy, and without a lot of heat. As I sat on my balcony that evening, overlooking the rice paddies below, I felt once again revived. The Thai Fried Rice saved me.

The next day, I met the chef, and asked him to share his recipe, and show me how to make it, which he was happy to do.

Before I left Thailand, I went to a little store and bought the same soy sauce that he used – a #1, which is very light and with little sodium, a #5, which is caramelly and dark, and used more for color than flavor. I also bought a bottle of the vegetarian mushroom sauce, which I like to use instead of fish sauce. It’s less salty and has a lovely earthy taste. If you can’t find this, or prefer fish sauce, by all means, use it.

In fact, think of this recipe as a rough guide -you can substitute anything that you’d like – chicken or shrimp instead of tofu, instead of broccoli, use asparagus when it’s in season. Shallots instead of onions for a lighter flavor. Ginger for a slightly different take. I added an egg one time because I wanted to see how it would taste, and if I have one, I put it in, and if I don’t, I don’t.

Have fun with this. See what veggies are fresh at the market, and buy your favorites to stir-fry. It’ll help to have a wok to make this, but you can also mix it up in a heavy-bottom skillet with the heat turned on high.

Thai Fried Rice

2-3 cups cooked rice
1 cup broccoli florets
¼ red bell pepper, sliced in strips
½ onion, diced
8 ounces tofu, sliced into small pieces
1-2 Thai chiles, seeds removed and diced finely
1 egg
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetarian (mushroom) sauce
2 tablespoons peanut oil or safflower oil
1 lime, sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro or basil, chopped

1. Cook the rice as per instructions and set aside ( I like the nuttiness of brown rice, and often use this, but it takes a good long time to cook).

2. Put all of your ingredients in little bowls beside your wok, so it’ll be easy to grab them once you get started. This is a fast process, and you’ve got to be prepared.

3. Put oil in wok and turn heat on medium high. Add onions and Thai chiles and cook until onions begin to brown on the edges.

4. Add tofu and stir until it begins to cook — it’ll brown slightly.

5. Add broccoli and red bell pepper, the two soy sauces, and the vegetarian sauce. Stir until combined.

6. Now, add the rice.

7. Push everything to one side and make a little hole where you can put the just-cracked egg. Let it cook, and with your spatula, chop it up and mix it in with the rest of the rice and veggies.

8. Add cilantro (or basil).

9. If you want your fried rice to look fancy (a la Four Seasons Chiang Mai), put some in a bowl, smush it down, put a plate on top, and then invert it. Serve with lime.