Leftover Vegetable Fried Rice is a delicious way to clear out the refrigerator. Better than takeout!
Leftover vegetable fried rice
When I was a kid, my mom would call “leftovers night” smörgåsbord. To my knowledge, my mother is not Swedish in the least. In any case, to me, that word meant that we would be eating a bunch of wildly unrelated leftover food: I was never excited by this idea.
But, here I am in my forties, very aware that being frugal and using up every scrap is the right thing to do. I’ve embraced the challenge of using up leftovers in creative ways, preferably so that the “leftovers dish” doesn’t resemble the original meal.
Although this dish is called “leftover VEGETABLE fried rice”, this is only a suggestion. Imagine your leftover roast chicken or turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving or Christmas reincarnated in this fried rice recipe. Deliciousness!
Here is the basic canvas for my go-to “leftovers fried rice” dinner:
Do you ever get overzealous when you shop for vegetables? I know I do. I have the best intentions of serving a delicious vegetable side with every dinner (more on that noble cause here), but it sometimes just doesn’t happen.
So, I often have a few mushrooms, half a head of cabbage, and other vegetable odds-and-ends hanging out in the crisper drawer that are perilously close to their “use by” date. Peppers would be great, as would broccoli, zucchini, green peas, snow peas—these are just a few ideas. The most important considerations are (1) to add the ingredients at the right time in your stir-frying so they don’t overcook and (2) not to overcrowd your wok or skillet.
Another frequent inhabitant of our refrigerator is leftover rice. As it so happens—in my experience, at least—day-old rice (or even 2–3 days) yields the best fried rice. WIN. I have tried short and long grain rice in my Leftover Vegetable Fried Rice recipe: both seem to work equally well (I have not tried brown rice, though). Our favorite rices are jasmine and Basmati, so we usually have one or the other on hand. Keep it cold!
Let me quickly back up and say that I have been making some form of this fried rice recipe for a very long time. But I have always done it wrong: my rice would always stick to the pan. It was still delicious, but cleanup was problematic. I finally figured out (thanks to Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab) that my pan was not hot enough, and that I needed to fry the rice in batches.
If you don’t have day-old rice on hand, The Food Lab suggests rinsing your rice before cooking it. Then, when it’s cooked, spread the rice out on a tray for about 15 minutes. This allows the surface moisture to evaporate so your freshly cooked rice won’t stick together.
The sauce I use on leftover vegetable fried rice is similar to a very basic teriyaki sauce, with soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil. The sauce isn’t thick at all, since we only want it to lightly flavor the rice.
About the egg…
I also prepare the egg in advance. Many people scramble the egg right into the fried rice. You’re welcome to do the same: just shove all the ingredients to the sides of your wok or skillet, crack in the egg, and scramble it right in the pan. My preference, though, is to make the egg separately in a non-stick skillet. I make a thin omelette, cut it into bite-sized chunks, and mix it in right before serving the leftover vegetable fried rice.
Meal-prep for leftover vegetable fried rice
I like to meal-prep the vegetables I plan to use in the leftover vegetable fried rice well in advance. I slice and chop the veggies, then store them in containers according to the order I’ll be adding them to the pan. For example, I add the onions and carrots at the same time, so I store them together. In addition, I often mix up the ingredients for the fried rice sauce and prepare the egg the night before.
Making Leftover Vegetable Fried Rice
Whenever you stir-fry, it’s important to have everything cut up and set out so that you can easily get to it and add it to the wok when you need it. The cheffy term for this is “mise en place” (pronounced “MEEZ ahn plahce”, French for “set in place”). This is important because stir-frying progresses very quickly: you don’t want to walk away from a screaming-hot wok to root around for ingredients.
While the wok heats up with a bit of oil, I break up any clumps of rice with my fingers to avoid crushing the grains (thanks for the tip, Kenji!). When the wok is smoking hot, I add about a third of the rice (~1 cup) to the wok and stir-fry (stirring and turning) until it’s toasted.
I transfer that batch to a bowl, add a little more oil, and repeat with the remaining batches of rice.
When the rice is all toasted and waiting in the bowl, I add a bit more oil to the pan and quickly stir-fry the veggies, starting with the onions and carrots and then finishing with the cabbage (if I’m using cooked meat, I add it in now).
Finally, I mix in the egg and toasted rice, sprinkle in the sauce, toss to combine, and garnish with sliced scallions. I like to finish my leftover vegetable fried rice with a tiny sprinkling of tamari and sesame oil on each individual serving. Some toasted sesame seeds would also be delicious sprinkled over the top.
I have fun with serving the leftover vegetable fried rice by setting out chopsticks with each bowl—but I’m the only one who actually eats it that way.
That’s it! I hope you love this clear-out-the-crisper recipe as much as we do!
P.S. Be sure to check out my how-to article, Mastering Easy One-Pot Meal Recipes for even more ideas for delivering easy, quick dinners!
I’m sharing my leftover vegetable fried rice recipe with:
- #CookBlogShare, a great food blogger recipe-share hosted this week at Easy Peasy Foodie.
- #CookOnceEatTwice, for recipes that are just as good left-over as they are when you made them, hosted by Searching for Spice.
Leftover Vegetable Fried Rice is a delicious way to clear out the refrigerator. You can also add your leftover cooked meat! This recipe is heavy on the vegetables for a relatively healthy version of the takeout classic. You need a very large skillet or wok and a smaller non-stick skillet to make this recipe.
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp canola oil
- 2 tbsp canola oil divided
- 3 cups cooked rice (see Recipe Notes #1 and #2)
- 1 cup red onion chopped
- 1/2 cup baby carrots sliced ~1/4" thick on the bias
- 1 tbsp garlic finely minced
- 1 tbsp ginger finely minced
- 1/2 cup cremini mushrooms sliced
- 2 cups green cabbage coarsely chopped (see Recipe Note #3)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper freshly ground
- 1/2 cup scallions finely sliced
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds toasted (optional)
- tamari (optional)
- sesame oil (optional)
Mix the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl; set aside.
(See Recipe Note #4) Turn your broiler to high with a rack set ~6" away from the element. Beat the eggs together with the salt. Set a medium (~12") non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. When the skillet is heated, add the egg mixture. Allow the eggs to set up, running a silicone spatula around the edges and tilting the pan all the way around to let any loose egg mixture run to the edges. Finish under the broiler: the eggs should be completely set but not at all brown. Remove to a cutting board and cut into small pieces.
Heat 1 tsp of oil in your wok or skillet until smoking. Add ~1/3 cup of the cooked rice to the wok. Stir and fry until toasted. Remove to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining rice, adding more oil as needed and working in ~1/3 cup batches.
Add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the wok or skillet. Add the onions, carrots, cabbage, and mushrooms. Stir and fry until slightly softened. Add the ginger and garlic; stir and fry until fragrant.
Add the rice and egg (or see Recipe Note #4). Gently mix with the vegetables. Pour the sauce over the top of the rice and gently mix. Garnish and serve.
- Keep the rice chilled. Just before cooking, break up any clumps of rice with your fingers.
- If you don't have cooked rice, rinse 1 cup of dry rice under cold running water, then prepare according to the package instructions. When the rice is cooked, spread it out on a baking sheet for 15 minutes. NOTE: depending on how you cook the rice, this adds around 35 minutes to the overall cooking time.
- You can substitute any veggies you want for the cabbage. Just be sure to cut them into small enough sizes so they cook through during our quick stir-fry. (You also may need to add them earlier: for example, at the same time as the onions and carrots.) Some of my favorite veggies for this stir-fry are broccoli, zucchini, snow peas, and frozen green peas (mix the peas in frozen, just before you add the sauce).
- Alternatively, you can cook the egg right in the skillet. To do this, push all of the stir-fried ingredients (veggies and rice) up on the sides of the wok or skillet to make a well in the middle. Add the egg mixture and scramble.
WORK AHEAD: you can meal-prep the vegetables, mix the sauce, and prepare the egg in advance.
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