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Healthy Eating: Takeout-worthy fried rice is fast, flavorful

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
In this image taken on April 8, 2013, shrimp fried rice with pickled radishes is shown served in bowls in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Starchy, crunchy and flavorful, fried rice is a deeply satisfying dish no matter what you add to it. And you can add just about any vegetable or protein you care to name, fresh or left over.

I love fried rice not only for its taste and versatility, but also because it's so easy to make at the last minute. I almost always have most of the core ingredients stocked in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer. If a carton of leftover takeout restaurant rice suddenly appears on a shelf next to the milk, I'm good to go.

I've never been all that great at cooking rice. I just can't seem to get the ratio and timing right, and I always forget when you're supposed to leave it alone and when you're supposed to stir it. I finesse this handicap by leaning on a little trick I learned during my restaurant days: boiling the rice in a big pot of salted water as if it was pasta. That way, there's no rice-to-water ratio to worry about. For brown rice, 45 minutes does the trick.

And if you're in a particular rush, you can swap in instant brown rice, which is almost as nutritious as regular brown rice and cooks up quicker, as advertised.

This being spring, I made sure that the stars of the recipe were seasonal ingredients, starting with peas. Fresh peas are heavenly, of course, but they start turning to starch as soon as they're harvested, so be sure to cook them right away. I also incorporated two other spring vegetables — sugar snap peas and radishes, though I left the radishes raw. Saute a radish, and this spicy, crispy root vegetable becomes sweet and tender.

But I like the kick of a raw radish, so I simply shredded them, then tossed them with a little seasoned rice vinegar. Sprinkled on top of the finished dish, these raw radishes are similar to a pickle.

Protein-wise, this recipe calls for shrimp, but you can use any protein you choose, or toss in mushrooms instead and call it a vegetarian's delight.

As is typical in Chinese cuisine, this dish requires little cooking time. But you must have all the ingredients measured and chopped before you toss them in the pan. If you want to streamline the process further, you can leave out the sauce, simply serving the finished dish with soy sauce and hot sauce on the side. For that matter, you could lose the radish garnish, though even suggesting such a thing makes me sad.

In the end, I can pretty much guarantee that if you try this recipe, you'll be inspired to make it again and again, changing it slightly every time to make room for whichever delicious seasonal ingredients happen to be at hand or whichever leftovers are crying out to be used up.

Chef Sara Moulton writes this column for the Associated Press.

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Shrimp Fried Rice With Pickled Radishes

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Nonstick cooking spray

2 eggs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

12 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons grated fresh gingerroot

3 cups cooked brown rice

2 cups coarsely shredded radishes (about 10 large radishes)

2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sake or dry sherry

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 cup blanched fresh or thawed frozen peas

1 cup blanched sugar snap peas, cut into 12-inch pieces

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Coat the pan with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add a pinch of salt and some pepper to the eggs, then add them to the pan. Tilt the pan to spread the egg all around to make a flat pancake. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds, or until almost set. Turn over the egg (you can cut it in a few pieces to make it easier, using the side of a nonstick pan-safe spatula) and cook for another 10 seconds. Transfer the egg to a cutting board.

Add 12 tablespoon of the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly golden, for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until almost cooked through, for another 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and gingerroot and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and return the skillet to the heat.

Add the remaining 1 12 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, then add the rice, pressing it flat with the back of the spatula. Cook until the rice is slightly crispy, turning it over with the spatula, for 8 to 10 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, in a small bowl, combine the radishes, vinegar and salt to taste. In another small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sake and sesame oil. Chop the egg and add it along with the peas and sugar snap peas to the bowl with the shrimp.

When the rice is nicely crisped, add the contents of the shrimp bowl and the soy sauce mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the mixture is heated through. Transfer the fried rice to 4 bowls and top each portion with some of the radishes.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 440 calories (120 calories from fat), 14 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 175 milligrams cholesterol, 22 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams dietary fiber, 670 milligrams sodium

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