Quick Cheap Good: Grateful-for-What-I-Have Fried Rice

A pot of rice and various vegetables arranged on a tabletop. These will go into fried rice, a very frugal and versatile dish.
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Cooking a satisfying meal, like this fried rice, with food I have on hand, never fails to evoke feelings of gratitude. I think if I bought any ingredients I wanted, at any time (despite the season), at any price and cooked a food porn-worthy dish, tasty as it may be, I would feel less thankful. After all, appreciating what we do have—rather than desiring what we don’t—makes us happier.

If you are fortunate enough to have plenty of food on hand—20 percent of Americans received some form of food assistance in 2020—make the most of it by getting creative and cooking dishes that can be highly adaptable, like this fried rice. You’ll save money and reduce food waste, which, worldwide, accounts for from 8 to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s 2021 Food Waste Index Report.

Fried Rice Ingredients

ginger, shallots, garlic, jalapeño, eggs, bell peppers, celery, green beans and a small pot of cooked white rice to make fried rice

The rice

Leftover rice works really well for this dish. Whether you cooked rice a day or two ago or brought some home that you couldn’t finish at a restaurant, if your rice has begun to dry out, you don’t have past-its-prime food on your hands, you have part of your fried rice dish prepped. Break up any lumps as you stir it in the pan.

You can use freshly cooked rice for this (as a grownup, you can do whatever you want). But spread some out on a clean dish to cool and dry a bit to avoid rendering globby clumps of fried rice.

We buy mostly long-grain white rice and sometimes brown. Either will work for fried rice. I had only sushi rice on hand for this post and thought I should ride over to the bulk store in the 80-plus degree heat to buy medium- or long-grain rice and then remembered that I want this recipe to inspire readers to use what they have in the pantry rather than buy more food. So I used sushi rice. It worked. (This blog keeps me honest.)

The vegetables

Add random vegetables to fried rice and never make the same dish twice (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Just some vegetable contenders:

  • Bell pepper
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Snow peas and so on

Dice these into small pieces.

diced random vegetables in a measuring cup to make fried rice
3 cups of diced random vegetables I had on hand

The protein

At the farmers’ market, I happily pay a premium for eggs laid by pasture-raised hens. I don’t have backyard chickens (yet). You could use tofu in place of the eggs in this fried rice. If you make your own tofu for this dish, I’d strain the curd less than usual to render softer, silkier tofu.

The “sauce”

I added a bit of strong homemade pineapple scrap vinegar to this. A splash of acid works wonders as does the bit of fruity flavor in the pineapple vinegar. I’ve run out of hot sauce (the recipe is in my book) but I do have a jalapeño on hand so I added half of that. When you cook this way (or whichever way you cook really!), be sure to taste as you go and adjust the flavors as necessary.

large cast iron skilled containing shallots, garlic and ginger and a few pieces of minced jalapeño that fell in the pan
I cooked this in a large, 12-inch cast-iron skillet because I am obsessed with cast iron (so easy to clean)
scallions, or green onions, that are growing in soil in front of a beige stucco wall
I planted scallion ends here last year, they regrew and continue to do so every time I give them a little snip
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5 from 1 vote

Grateful-for-What-I-Have Fried Rice

Course: Main Course
Servings: 3


  • 2 tablespoons oil coconut, peanut, avocado, olive
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons grated or minced ginger
  • 1 medium onion or shallot, diced
  • ½ to 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, minced optional
  • 3 cups random diced vegetables such as carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, bell pepper, snap peas and so on
  • 2 cups leftover cooked rice see Note
  • tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
  • tablespoons vinegar, or to taste rice vinegar, fruit scrap vinegar or kombucha vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 large pastured eggs, lightly beaten
  • salt to taste
  • 3 to 4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced see Note


  • In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add random vegetables and sauté for about 3 minutes longer.
  • Stir in the cooked rice, soy sauce, vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Stir to break up any clumps of rice and to coat the rice with liquid.
  • Make a large well in the center of the mixture. Pour in the eggs. Stir them around in the center of the pan for about 5 minutes. The eggs will transform from runny to nearly cooked curds. Distribute the eggs through the vegetables and rice and continue to cook until the eggs are done, 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
  • Serve immediately and garnish with chopped scallions.


Day-old, leftover cooked rice works well. You want it to have begun to dry out so it doesn’t lump together the way hot, freshly cooked rice will. If you use freshly cooked rice, spread it out on a dish and allow it to cool and dry out slightly before cooking the fried rice. 
While chopping the scallions, save an inch of the root ends and place them in a shallow jar or dish of water to regrow. Once the greens have grown an inch or two, plant them outside in the soil or in a pot of soil sitting either outside or in a sunny window.

4 Replies to “Quick Cheap Good: Grateful-for-What-I-Have Fried Rice”

  1. Amen! I do so enjoy scrounging up what I have to make fried rice too.

    1. Thanks, Beth. It’s very satisfying and not only in my tummy 🙂

  2. Yeah for fried rice when anything goes ..well almost 🙂

  3. A bowl of fried rice is such a comforting supper!

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