ONE WEEK OF PANTRY STAPLE MEALS THAT ARE MOSTLY HEALTHY AND USE LESS THAN TEN INGREDIENTS. ALSO INCLUDES A SHOPPING LIST TO MAKE DINNER PLANS EVEN EASIER!Continue reading “7 Pantry Staple Meals with 10 Ingredients or Less!”
VEGETABLE FRIED RICE WITH BROWN RICE, SOY-BASED SAUCE, FROZEN VEGGIES, AND RUNNY EGGS. A DELICIOUS AND HEALTHY DINNER WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE COOKING OR HAVE MINIMAL INGREDIENTS!
Back in college, I went through a major Chinese food obsession. I still do occasionally, but I would say my peak happened sometime around late freshman/early sophomore year. When I felt like taking myself on a date, I would get cute, go to a coffee shop, visit my favorite local book store, and finish the day with Chinese food at one of my two favorite spots. I would always end up ordering way too much food and wanting to roll my ass out of the restaurant. But, under no circumstances could I leave without ordering egg drop soup (with lots of Sambal Oelek!) and a side of fried rice. At the very least, those leftovers fed me for a solid three days.
Anyways, I miss my college-era metabolism, but I still get hard cravings for fried rice. As much as I prefer it in my usual takeout order, unfortunately Marc likes steamed rice better than fried rice (which ???). But, he still loves my homemade version as a meal, and with it being so easy, we have it quite often! It’s not my go-to greasy version with BBQ pork, but it’s soooo good for a healthy weeknight dinner!
Some key details about this vegetable fried rice
Vegetable fried rice is a meal I make when I have no ingredients and no patience. It’s my “I don’t feel like cooking” meal or my “I forgot to buy three ingredients for dinner tonight that I swore we had in the cabinet” back-up dinner. It requires only basic pantry ingredients by using rice, frozen veggies, and basic condiments from the Asian aisle at the grocery store! Oh, and eggs, because that’s the best part of fried rice!
To make it a bit healthier, I swapped brown rice for white and added a ton of extra veggies. I like runny eggs on top, but you could always scramble them as well! And the best part is that the dish takes thirty minutes to make from start-to-end. (I know a million recipes say they take “30 minutes”, but it’s actually true in this case).
These are the ingredients you’ll need
Hopefully, you have most of these ingredients on hand, but if not, I would highly recommend stocking up! This is the perfect meal to have as a back-up, and almost all of the ingredients will last in the pantry or freezer. Make sure you have:
- Brown Rice: White also works. Just make sure it’s long grain, such as jasmine. You will want this pre-cooked and cooled, preferably overnight. I usually always have leftover brown rice in the fridge which is perfect. We’ll discuss what to do if you don’t have leftovers/pre-cooked rice!
- Frozen Broccoli: Fresh would work as well but it will take longer to cook.
- Frozen Mixed Vegetables: I use the frozen veg with carrots, peas, corn, and green beans. Whatever you like (or have in your freezer) will work.
- Neutral Oil: I use grapeseed.
- Garlic: Fresh is best but ground will do in a pinch.
- Brown Sugar: You only need a little, but you can sub with honey or maple syrup if you prefer.
- Ginger: Again, fresh is best but ground will do.
- Low Sodium Soy Sauce: Regular would probably be fine, just expect a saltier flavor.
- Sesame Oil: Toasted or un-toasted both work!
- Rice Vinegar: I use unseasoned.
- Scallions/Chives: I usually use chives, because I almost always have them either fresh or dried. However, scallions are also great!
- Eggs: At least one per person.
- Salt and Pepper: To taste, always.
Now let’s make vegetable fried rice!
To start, make sure that you have cooked + cooled the brown (or white) rice and defrosted the frozen veggies! I just microwave the frozen broccoli for two minutes and drain out extra water. Then, I repeat these steps with the frozen veggie mix.
Next, you’ll whisk together some brown sugar, low sodium soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and rice vinegar. Set aside.
In a large pan, heat a few tablespoons of neutral oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the broccoli and let it cook undisturbed until the broccoli is slightly charred and crispy on the edges, about 4-5 minutes. Do not stir! You want everything to get brown and charred.
When the broccoli is nice and brown, add the mixed veggies cooking until warm, about another 2-3 minutes. Then, add the garlic and saute until fragrant.
Next, add the rice and the sauce, stirring until everything is well mixed. Taste, and add salt if necessary. Press the rice into an even layer, and let cook another 5 minutes, until the rice is crispy. If the pan seems a bit dry, you can add a little more oil. Either way, the rice may stick a little, and that’s ok! More crunchies for you.
While the rice gets crispy, fry your eggs however you like. I recommend sunny side up or over easy!
When the rice is crispy, divide between four bowls, and top with scallions and an egg. Enjoy yolk-y, crispy rice bliss forever.
Um, I don’t just have cooked + cooled rice laying around?
On one hand, I don’t understand because I almost always have a tub of rice in the fridge. On the other hand, I totally understand because I almost never have cooked rice when I actually need it. Here’s what I do in those cases:
- Microwave Rice: Ok, I know microwave rice isn’t the best thing in the world, and I hate that the containers are not recyclable. But, if there’s one thing that microwavable rice does really well, it’s being too dry. Which, coincidentally is what we need for fried rice! So, if you’re in need of a quick fix, just use two packets of microwavable brown rice and everything will be A-ok.
- Quick Cooled Rice: Just make rice as usual, spread it around on a sheet pan in an even layer, and place it in the freezer until it’s cold and dried out (about 10-15 minutes). You can also place it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
- Fresh Rice: Worst case scenario, you can just make fried rice with fresh, hot rice. It might get a bit mushy since it has extra moisture. But, if the craving is real, it will still work.
Use long grain instead of short grain rice
For vegetable fried rice, or any fried rice for that matter, you should go with long grain! Short grain rice has a lot of extra starch, which will make the rice a bit more sticky and mushy when you mix it with other things. However, long grain rice doesn’t have quite as much starch, so it will dry out nicely and keep the vegetable fried rice from getting mushy. Rinsing the rice with cold water prior to cooking will also help keep the rice from getting sticky by removing extra starch.
Making a perfect sunny side up egg
I finally learned the secret to a perfect sunny side up egg, and I am pleased to discuss it here today. It’s actually v easy! First, heat a little oil in a non-stick pan. Olive oil or grapeseed oil are both great choices. Crack the egg in the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cover the pan with a lid (preferably glass so you can see what’s going on). Let the egg cook until the whites are set but the yolk is still runny. Remove with a spatula. The bottom will be nice and crispy, and the yolk will be perfectly runny!
Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days. When reheating, add a little water to the rice, stir, and microwave for a minute or so. I would not recommend storing leftover eggs, because they get a little weird in the fridge, and they’re hard to reheat. Just make as many as you plan on eating, and make eggs fresh if you have leftovers!
However, if you cannot make fresh eggs, go the scrambled route. Just make a few scrambled eggs like you usually would, stir them into the rice, and enjoy the leftovers later!
Vegetable fried rice variations
Vegetable fried rice is completely customizable, so you can pretty much use whatever you have in your fridge. Here are a few variations that would be delicious:
- Scrambled eggs instead of fried
- Adding protein such as chicken, beef, pork, or prawns
- Switching up the veggies with cauliflower, asparagus, peppers, or bean sprouts
- Adding hot sauce such as Sriracha!
- Mixing in some sliced kimchi
- Adding a bit of diced pineapple
- If you’re going for a no-rice route, you can always use cauliflower rice instead!
A few tips and tricks
This is truly a basic recipe, but there are a few things you can do to make sure it tastes just like fried rice from the hibachi instead of fried rice that has been sitting in a condensation-infiltrated takeout container!
- Rinse the rice with cold water prior to cooking to make sure that there’s no extra starch! The rice is properly rinsed when the water runs clear and no longer looks murky.
- For perfect fried rice, always use cold rice. Hot rice will get sticky and clumpy when it hits the pan.
- Don’t be afraid of high heat. The high heat will crisp everything up and make sure the ingredients don’t simply steam together.
- Fresh ingredients are always best, of course, but dried spices and herbs always work! Garlic powder, ground ginger, and dried chives are always great subs in a pinch.
- I use frozen veggies, but fresh is always good too! You will just have to saute the veggies until they are completely cooked, which will likely take 10-15 extra minutes.
- Don’t be afraid to let things char/crisp up. Letting the rice get crispy is what will help vegetable fried rice taste like it came straight off the hibachi!
Dishes To serve with Vegetable Fried Rice!
Vegetable Fried Rice with Runny Eggs
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Rainy Days by Culture Abuse
SWEET POTATO BLACK BEAN BOWLS WITH KALE, SEEDS, AVOCADO, AND LEMON-TAHINI SAUCE. A LIGHT BUT FILLING SHEET PAN DINNER THAT ALSO HAPPENS TO BE VEGAN!
In case you’re getting to a point where you can’t stand to eat one more damn cookie from the batch that you thought would be a good idea to freeze in case you got snacky and sad, here’s some vegetables and super foods! When I said in my blog post last week that I meal prepped, I meant it! I threw together these sweet potato and black bean bowls early last week, and they lasted so long, that Marc and I definitely won’t be eating them again for at least two more months. But, it was fun while it lasted, and I learned how to switch up veggie bowls so that I don’t get entirely too sick of them!
On top of feeding us for lunch and dinner for a few days, these bowls also happened to make a great breakfast! Rice is unnecessary when you go the breakfast route, because you can just plop the veggie mixture on a plate, top with a runny egg, and voilà, it’s suddenly a hash.
Here’s what you’ll need for sweet potato black bean bowls
The best part of these bowls is that they require mostly basic pantry staples + a few things from the produce aisle! While the lemon-tahini sauce is optional, I would highly recommend making it! It adds so much delicious, nutty flavor to the dish. However, if you can’t find tahini, no worries. We’ll talk about it later.
Also, I realize this looks like a ton of ingredients, but a lot of it is spices and other typical things you probably already have in your kitchen. You can mix up the ingredients if you want to customize your bowls, but here’s what I used:
- Sweet Potatoes: I use jewel sweet potatoes, but any are ok!
- Olive Oil: Or whatever oil you like to use for roasting.
- Chili Powder: For spice.
- Smoked Paprika: Or regular!
- Cayenne: For more spice.
- Salt and Pepper: Always.
- Garlic: A necessary component of any savory dish.
- Rosemary: Fresh or dried is fine!
- Kale: I use curly, but get whatever you can find.
- Red Bell Pepper: Or pepper of choice.
- Black Beans: Just one can.
- Tahini: See substitutions below!
- Lemon: Goes perfectly with tahini.
- Brown Rice: Or any grain you like.
- Toppings: Avocado, seeds (I like pumpkin, chia, and flax), cheese, eggs, etc.
Time to make sweet potato black bean bowls!
Before you begin, remember to start your rice! How many times have you forgotten to start the rice and then dinner is half an hour late? The woooorst.
Next, spread the sweet potatoes on a sheet pan, and drizzle with olive oil. Toss with the chili powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper and bake at 400°F for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop up the pepper and tear the kale. Toss with more olive oil, salt, and pepper, and add to the sheet pan. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the veggies are tender and the kale is crispy. Sprinkle the black beans over the sheet pan, and bake for another 3-5 minutes, just until the beans are warmed.
While everything is baking, you’ll want to prepare your rice, any toppings, and the sauce! If you’re making the lemon-tahini sauce, just whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, some water, a clove of garlic, and a pinch of salt. It will seize and get clumpy, but just keep going! If it’s thick, continue adding water or lemon juice until it’s nice and saucy.
Serve the veggies over rice with sauce, seeds, avocado, and other toppings of choice!
Sweet Potato Black Bean Bowl Toppings
These bowls are customizable, which is the best part! You can use different veggies, different grains, whatever you like. As for toppings, I like to add avocado, a squeeze of lemon, and lots of seeds to my bowls! (Seeds are basically savory sprinkles, yeah?) However, if you’re feeling a little ambitious, there are lots of other fun things you can add to round out the meal:
- Fried Eggs: Obviously not vegan, but so delicious!
- Feta Cheese: Parmesan or queso fresco are great too if you can’t find feta.
- Pickled Onions: Anything pickled, really.
- Fresh Herbs: There’s never a bad time for fresh herbs. Try chives or cilantro!
- Greek Yogurt: I’ll put plain Greek yogurt on anything.
- Chicken: If you need some meat, grilled or sauteed chicken would be delicious.
What if I can’t find tahini?
I’m lucky that tahini just sits on the shelves in my grocery store. However, I know that’s not the case for everyone. If you can’t find tahini, but you still want to make a sauce, try plain Greek yogurt! As much as I love tahini, I will never say no to garlicky, lemony yogurt sauce. Or, you can always order tahini online!
Bonus: Sweet potato black bean bowls are vegan!
If vegan is your thing, then these bowls are for you! Obviously, if you add eggs and cheese and yogurt, that will not be the case. But, they will still be vegetarian! They also happen to be gluten free. So, you can pretty much make these bowls for anyone which is gr8.
How to meal prep sweet potato black bean bowls
These are my perfect meal prep situtation! Once you get all of the ingredients prepped, all you have to do is layer the bowls together into six airtight containers however you please. Top with a lid, and store them in the fridge for up to one week. I would recommend adding seeds right before you eat, or they may get soggy in the fridge. Also, maybe add avocado last-minute, or it’ll get brown and funky.
A few tips and tricks
- Make sure not to crowd the veggies, or they will steam rather than bake. If necessary, use two sheet pans so that the veggies get nice and crisp.
- Double the tahini dressing if you have no self control (hi, me).
- The veggies may get a bit soggy in the fridge. To crisp them back up, reheat them at 350°F just until they are warm.
Other delicious veggie recipes!
Sweet Potato Black Bean Bowls
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: What Would I Do? by Strawberry Guy
THAI CHICKEN AND RICE SOUP IS ONE OF OUR FAVORITE COZY, ONE-POT WEEKNIGHT DINNERS THAT WE USUALLY MAKE ONCE A MONTH, REGARDLESS OF THE SEASON. WITH LIME JUICE, FISH SAUCE, SOY SAUCE, AND FRESH HERBS, IT’S SPICY, FRESH, AND PERFECTLY SALTY!Continue reading “Thai Chicken and Rice Soup”
CHEESY, PEPPERY, AND PERFECTLY AL DENTE CACIO E PEPE WITH FRIED SHALLOTS.
So far this week, I have done enough squats for my legs to turn into jelly, planned (but not yet planted) a small front-porch garden, and made a Sunday dinner consisting of leftover Easter brunch cinnamon rolls and chicken with brown rice and veggies. I even *meal prepped* and took a two-hour nap which, for me, is unheard of. The line between productivity and self-annihilation is thin, but it is one I’m willing to ride out.
Anyways, I know it’s important to stay healthy right now, so we’ve been eating lots of veggies and working out every (week)day. But sometimes, things still feel a bit overwhelming, yes? And we must indulge ourselves with self-care and comfort food akin to mac and cheese! And that, my friends, is when we put on cashmere drawstring sweatpants and make cacio e pepe!
What is cacio e pepe?
Cacio e pepe is a Roman pasta dish that literally translates to “cheese and pepper”, a.k.a. two perfect ingredients. It’s made up with only the most basic pantry staples: pasta, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano cheese, and it’s pronounced “ka-chee-oh eh peh-peh” (which borderline reminds me of Lightning McQueen, but let’s not go there). Think of it as adult mac and cheese, but without all the fancy stuff that comes in “adult” mac and cheese recipes, like gruyere or prosciutto or spring peas. It really is the most basic of dishes but it’s a dream of a comfort food. And in this version, we take it up a notch with fried shallots. Because tbh, there’s really never a bad time for fried onions. 🙂
Cacio e pepe ingredients
I really can’t think of a recipe with more basic ingredients, but in this version, we’re getting a little *fancy* with fried shallots! However, this only requires two extra ingredients, so we’re really keeping it simple here. Pantry pasta forever. <3
- Shallots: Go for two large or three small! Sometimes, I make extra just to have around.
- Neutral Oil: You’ll want something neutral for frying like vegetable or canola oil. I usually go with canola!
- Pasta: You’re going to want a long pasta here. I believe that bucatini is the most traditional, but I usually use regular spaghetti since I always have it around!
- Freshly Cracked Black Pepper: The freshly-cracked part is important. The fresher the pepper, the more flavorful your pasta will be!
- Pecorino Romano/Parmesan: Some people swear Pecorino Romano is the only way, but I’m fine with Parmesan, and I think you should be too! Use what you have or what’s available to you.
- Salt: For flavoring the pasta water!
Let’s make fried shallots!
I know, frying, ugh. I can undoubtedly tell you that I usually hate frying. But, shallots are the exception, because they are sooo easy and not messy! Plus, the leftover oil is actually useful and doesn’t need to be thrown away immediately.
To fry shallots, I use the Bon Appetit method! You start by thinly cutting a few peeled large shallots. The best way to do this is with a mandolin, but I don’t like washing a mandolin over two shallots, so I just do it by hand. 🤷 You just want them to be about as thin as a dime! Next, place them in a pan, and fill the pan with just enough canola/vegetable oil to cover the shallots (about 1/3 cup).
Set the heat to medium-low, and cook until the shallots are deep golden-brown about 20 minutes. Stir often with the tines of a fork to separate the shallots! (Pro tip: Keep an eye on these, especially towards the end! Once they start browning, they will brown quick). Drain the fried shallots through a fine-mesh strainer (reserve the oil!) and place on a paper towel to mop up any extra grease. Season with salt and let cool! Store in an airtight container for up to three days.
How to make Cacio E pepe with fried shallots!
While you are frying your shallots, you will want to start your pasta! Fill a large pot with water and add a few heavy pinches of salt. Cook your pasta for one minute less than the package directions recommend. (We will continue cooking the pasta in the sauce later). Before you drain the spaghetti, make sure to save at least one and a half cups of the cooking liquid which will make up our sauce!
After draining your pasta, dry the pot, and return it to the stove. Heat three tablespoons of the leftover shallot frying oil over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly cracked pepper (about 50 turns) to oil, and cook to bloom the flavor, about one minute. Stir in half a cup of the leftover pasta water until everything is combined. Add the pasta, and coat well with the sauce, stirring until perfectly al dente. Add more pasta water as necessary until the cacio e pepe is perfectly saucy.
Remove the pasta from the heat, and quickly stir in the Pecorino Romano/Parmesan until you have a smooth, silky sauce. Taste, season with salt, and divide between four bowls. Top with fried shallots and enjoy!
Parmesan or pecorino Romano?
Traditionally, Pecorino Romano cheese is used in cacio e pepe. But, I’m all about accessibility and not every store has the cheese aisle of a French market. If you can’t find Pecorino Romano, just use some grated Parmesan! P.S. of course freshly grated is always better than pre-grated. But I don’t like shredding cheese, and if you don’t either, let’s just use pre-grated and not feel bad about it, ok?
How do I know when spaghetti is al dente?
Pasta is al dente when it has just a tiny bite to it. It will not be mushy or crunchy, and the center will have a slight white core. Package directions are not always clear, so it’s important to try your pasta to make sure it’s perfectly al dente!
You need to use freshly cracked black pepper, trust
Ok, I know this seems fussy, but it’s v important for cacio e pepe! When pre-ground black pepper (or any herb for that matter) sits around exposed to air, it rapidly loses flavor over time. But, when we use freshly ground black pepper, it isn’t exposed for the air for too long before we start cooking with it. This will lead to bright, aromatic, spicy flavors, not dull and boring nothing-ness.
cacio e pepe is great with all kinds of pasta
Bucatini is the most common pasta used in cacio e pepe, but it’s not the only option! Usually, I use spaghetti because it’s what I can find in the grocery store. While long, thin pastas work best with the cheese and pepper sauce, there are a few other types of pastas you can use! Besides bucatini or spaghetti, I would also recommend:
- Fettuccine: A flat, long pasta
- Pappardelle: A very thick, long pasta. One of my faves!
- Linguine: A little thicker than spaghetti but not as thick as fettuccine.
- Stuffed pastas: Tortellini, ravioli, etc.
Unfortunately, tubed pastas such as penne or rigatoni don’t work great, because they don’t hold on to the sauce quite as well.
pasta water vs. regular water
The reason we use pasta water to bring everything together is the starch! The salts and starches in the water not only adds flavor, but it also binds the oil, pepper, and cheese to the pasta so you get a smooth, silky sauce! If you use regular water, you’ll just end up with a puddle of water at the bottom of the pot instead of a sauce.
Butter or shallot oil?
A lot of recipes call for butter in the sauce, because butter is just straight-up delicious. However, I like to use the reserved shallot oil, because 1. it’s adds soooo much good flavor, and 2. less waste. You will probably have more shallot oil leftover after this recipe, so just store it in a jar and use it for other sauces, stir fries, and salad dressings in the future!
Storing Cacio E Pepe
Cacio e pepe is really one of those dishes that is just better day-of. The pasta will dry out a little bit once you put it in the fridge. It’s not necessarily bad, just not as good as fresh cacio e pepe! If you refrigerate the leftover pasta, just keep it in an airtight container, and add a small splash of water before you microwave the pasta. Stir well, top with leftover fried shallots, and enjoy! Definitely don’t store the cacio e pepe with the fried shallots in the fridge, or the shallots will get soggy!
How to serve cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is honestly good on its own, but if you’re like me, a veggie or side completes a meal! Here are a few things we like:
- An arugula salad with a simple vinaigrette
- Roasted broccoli or green beans
- Grilled asparagus or zucchini
- Caprese salad
- Melon with prosciutto!
- Garlic bread (duh)
Cacio e pepe ad-ins
If you want to take cacio e pepe up a notch, you can always add:
- A couple handfuls of arugula or spinach (let it wilt before serving)
- Fresh spring peas!
- A few cloves garlic
- Cooked chicken, bacon, or prosciutto
- A squeeze of lemon!
- Fresh herbs. I like a little fresh parsley once in a while.
A few tips!
Cacio e pepe is a pretty simple dish, but there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure it’s perfect!
- When boiling the pasta, make sure not to use too much water! We want the pasta to cook in a small amount of water so it gets very starchy and flavorful.
- Reserve some of the pasta water right before you drain to make sure it’s nice and starchy!
- Bloom the freshly ground pepper by cooking it in the oil for about a minute. This will bring out all of the amazing flavors!
- Remove the pasta from the heat before you add in the cheese, or it will get too hot and clump up.
- Add more pasta water as necessary to get a nice, silky sauce.
- Top with fried shallots right before serving so they don’t get soggy.
Some other italian dishes you’ll love!
cacio e pepe with fried shallots
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: He Loves Me by Brittany Howard