By the time we arrived in our hotel in Hoi An we were exhausted. We’d taken a train, three planes, and a one hour car drive, in which our tired six-month-old bub fell asleep sitting up. Yet we were so excited about being in Vietnam we decided to brave an evening stroll anyway. Bad idea. Bub cracked the shits and we had to retreat. She finally fell fast asleep that first night in a strange bed, and S went out to get us food as on top of being exhausted, we were fucking starving. He came back with a bowl of rice topped with garlicky gai lan (water spinach). Simple ingredients, fresh flavours, and goddamn if it wasn’t one of the best things I have ever eaten.
This was over two years ago now (!!) but I keep it in the back of my mind to serve as a reminder that sometimes the best meals are the simplest ones. The ones where just a few good ingredients come together; complimentary flavours, classic dishes. And the other part of what makes a meal memorable? The setting, of course. We can lay the table for a fancy meal and plan everything out to perfection, but sometimes nothing beats a meal eaten on a bed, lying between a sleeping baby and your lover, on your first night of adventures in a new country with the smell of fresh flowers and ginger in the tropical air.
This Broccoli, Onion & Cashew Fried Rice is hardly Vietnamese, but it does embrace the essence of simplicity. Fried rice is a classic Asian dish and there are, undoubtedly, countless versions. This is my pared back version – and I love it like this – but you can adapt it as you will. The miso lends the rice a delicious umami note, but can easily be replaced with black bean or oyster sauce if that is what you have on hand. And jack it up with whatever you’ve got in the crisper – fried rice is an ideal way to use up limp veges.
I always make fried rice when we have leftover rice in the fridge. This particular dish was made with leftover jasmine rice from Indian takeaway the night before, but any rice will do – brown, white, red. The key is to use rice that has been cooked and then completely cooled, a trick I learned from a friend that I worked with some ten years back (who, incidentally, is the one who turned me onto food blogging all that time ago). So even if you’re making the rice specifically for this dish, do it several hours ahead. Using cooled rice is what prevents your dish from getting gluggy or sticky; instead it will be like the deliciously addictive fried rice of your local takeaway joint.
Broccoli, Onion & Cashew Fried Rice
This is a straight-up fried rice. If you like, you can replace the jasmine rice with brown rice. You can also add extra greens – bok choy, kale, spinach – or throw in some thinly sliced carrots, red capsicum, edamame, or even tofu. Depending on how heavy you like your sauce you’ll likely have some leftovers – store it in the fridge and use as a dressing for a soba noodle salad or stirred through a quinoa dish.
2 small brown onions
1 small head/200 grams broccoli
1/2 cup jasmine rice, cooked and cooled
1/3 cup toasted cashews
Sunflower oil, to cook
2 tbsps tamari
1 tbsp water
1 tsp brown rice syrup
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp red miso paste
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp grated ginger
Start off by preparing the sauce. In a jar or bowl whisk together all of the ingredients until fully combined. Set aside.
Peel and halve the onions, then thinly slice. Chop the broccoli into tall thin florets, cutting any remaining stem into thin strips.
Heat a generous splash of sunflower oil in a wok over a medium-high heat. When the oil is good and hot, throw the onion in. Cook the onion for some 6 – 8 minutes, or until they are softened (toss regularly or stir with a wooden spoon/spatula). Add the broccoli and continue to cook, tossing regularly, for another 4 – 5 minutes. At this point throw in the cooled rice and half of the sauce (if the rice is clumping simply break it apart with your spoon). Toss continually to ensure the rice doesn’t stick and the sauce is evenly distributed. As soon as the rice is heated through and there is no sauce pooling at the bottom of the wok, which shouldn’t take more than 4 or 5 minutes, remove from the heat. Have a taste and if you feel it needs it, stir through more of the sauce.
Divide between two bowls, top with the cashews, and eat immediately.