February 7, 2013

RECIPE: Vegan Kimchi Fried Rice

I am all about comfort food, especially this time of year. As I write this, it is a typical Seattle winter day... which means it is gray, chilly, and drizzly. PRIME comfort food weather, I tell you. As of late, I've been getting cozy with kimchi fried rice. It's a rising star in the world of foodie trends, and for good reason - the addition of cabbage kimchi transforms typically bland fried rice into a just-spicy-enough, pleasantly-pungent dish that you can't put down. If you're unfamiliar with kimchi, I urge you to become friendly with the Korean dish celebrating cabbage in all of its chili-tinged, fermented glory.

My recipe for kimchi fried rice is heavy on the vegetables compared to other recipes I've seen, which means that in addition to loads of tender cabbage the rice is dotted with caramelized mushrooms, grated carrots, protein-packed edamame, and fresh scallions. It's happiness in a bowl.

A few notes before you go frolicking off into kimchi heaven:

-  Traditionally-crafted kimchi often includes fish sauce as an ingredient, so you'll want to find a brand that leaves out the fishiness. I happen to love Trader Joe's store brand of cabbage kimchi (found in their refrigerator section), which is vegan, spicy-but-not-hot and inexpensive to boot.

- You're welcome to use white or brown rice - I've tried both and they are equally delicious, though I find the toothsome texture of the brown rice to be quite pleasing.

- I followed Molly Wizenberg's recommendation of using butter (Earth Balance is my favorite vegan option) instead of oil, and she is 100% right about the importance of the butter in rounding out the kimchi's pungency. That said, I think that coconut oil would be equally effective should you want a whole-foods alternative.

Vegan Kimchi Fried Rice
makes 6-8 entree-sized servings

4 tablespoons non-dairy butter, divided (may substitute coconut oil or neutral cooking oil)
8 ounces shitake mushrooms*, cleaned, stems removed, and sliced
3 cups vegan napa cabbage kimchi, chopped (about 2 packages of Trader Joe's kimchi)
3 medium carrots, grated
1 cup shelled frozen edamame, thawed
6 cups cooked medium-grain rice, cooled and preferably one day old
salt to taste
1 bunch scallions, sliced

Bring a large skillet or wok over medium high heat (I do mean large - you'll need a 12 to 14 inch pan to fit all the rice without making a total mess). Add one tablespoon of butter and sauté the mushrooms until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and sauté the kimchi and carrots until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked rice, edamame, mushrooms, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring to combine. You want the rice to brown a bit and soak up all the spicy goodness from the kimchi, which will only take a few minutes. Once the rice is done, adjust seasoning, stir in the scallions, and serve immediately.

*The first time I tested this recipe, my grocer was out of shitakes, and it was sad. You can see in the photograph that I used button mushrooms instead. Today I made the rice with shitakes as planned and the difference is substantial - the dish really benefits from a flavorful 'shroom.

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