Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ham-Tomato Fried Rice a la Vinicius

Thanksgiving 2008 will forever be known as "Vini's First Thanksgiving and Black Friday Celebration." Our regular house guest, Vinicius, arrived from Brazil on the eve of Thanksgiving, not realizing that his two-day adventure with us would include a rice dish named after him, a gift from a Filipina American cook.

Since my husband and I decided to celebrate a quiet Thanksgiving, I was also in the mood to create a recipe for the occasion. I unearthed my ancient rice cooker (yes, I don't normally eat rice like any good
Filipina because I like couscous). I also used a teflon-coated dutch oven type of a pot, not a wok, because the citric acid in the sun-dried tomatoes does not work well with any aluminum-based cooking vessel. Lastly, I am known as a lazy cook. The goal was to use only ONE pot in this cooking process while maintaining my healthy cooking lifestyle.

I also modified the fried rice methodology of cooking. Regular instructions for cooking would include: "Add 1 tablespoon oil, swirling so that the bottom of the pan is coated. Add the rice. Stir-fry for 2 - 3 minutes, until the rice is heated through." Watch how I modify this method in the recipe's instructions. What I love about this dish is that you can use freshly-made rice (which I did, for this occasion!).

We hope Vini can also cook this recipe for his wife in Brazil. This dish makes an excellent potluck dish, too!

Bon Appetit!

Ham-Tomato Fried Rice a la Vinicius


Extra-Long Grain Rice, 3 cups (raw)
Water, 3 cups (to cook with the rice)

1. Measure 3 cups of raw rice into the rice cooker's container.

2. Under running water, rinse the water with your hand, draining the white-colored starchy water from the side of the container. Keep doing this until the water looks almost clear.

Note: If you've noticed the cooked whitish to brownish scum at the bottom of a rice cooker, that's probably the result of the starch resting at the bottom of the cooking vessel. This is my own theory, of course!

3. When you drain the last of the water from the rice cooker's container, you might have retained about 1 to 2 tbsps of water with the raw rice.

4. Add 3 cups minus 2 tbsps of water to the rice.

5. Cook your rice as usual.

6. When done, fluff the hot, cooked rice with a fork so that the rice doesn't clump. Shut off the rice cooker. Allow the rice to go to room temperature.

Note: You can cook the rice a few hours before you cook the fried rice. You will notice that I have not added any salt to the rice.

If you are simply cooking rice to accompany your meal, here's something my college cooking teacher taught me: Trickle a tablespoon or more of extra virgin cooking oil in a circle-like, clockwise motion on top of the rice. Fluff the rice with a fork. Now you know why the rice looks so glossy and appetizing!


Pine nuts, 1/4 cup
Extra-virgin olive oil, about 1/4 cup
Coarsely-chopped white onions, 1-1/2 cups
Chopped left-over baked ham, in 1/2 inch cubes, 1-1/2 cups (or less)
Balsamic vinegar, about 1 tbsp or slightly more (I use Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinegar of Modena; Filipino cooks can use sukang Ilocos)
McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning, to taste
White pepper, to taste
Sundried tomatoes, julienne-style, about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup (not coated in oil)
Water, 2 tbsps. To 1/4 cup
Frozen green peas, about 1/3 cup
Finely-chopped basil, 2 tsps. (I use Dorot's basil cubes from Trader Joe's)

1. Heat a teflon-type (or use a non-aluminum, non-cast iron pot) 4-quart (16-cup capacity) cooking pot. Use medium heat throughout the cooking process.

2. Add 1/4 cup of pine nuts. Toast the nuts, stirring the nuts with your wooden spoon until light yellow. Do not burn the nuts since they might taste bitter. Immediately transfer the nuts to a glass (non-metal) bowl.

3. Add about 2 tbsps of extra-virgin cooking oil to the pot. Heat through, then add the 1-1/2 cups of white onions. Stir-fry until the onions turn translucent. Transfer cooked onions (with its oil) on top of the toasted pine nuts in the glass bowl. (Vidalia onions are also nice to use for this recipe.)

4. Add about 1 or 2 tbsps of extra-virgin olive oil to the pot. Start with 1 tbsp of oil, heat it, then add the 1-1/2 cups of ham cubes. If the ham absorbs all of the oil immediately, add another tbsp of the olive oil. Stir-fry the ham cubes. Add about 2 tsps of Montreal Steak Seasoning. Then, add 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar. After the ham cubes absorb the vinegar, check the taste of the ham. The salty taste of the ham should disappear. Add a little more vinegar if the salty taste of the ham is still predominant. Add about 1 tsp of white pepper, if desired. Transfer the cooked ham cubes into the glass bowl, on top of the pine nuts and onions.

5. Add 1/3 or 1/2 cup of julienne-style sundried tomatoes to the heated pot. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot about 1/4 inch high. The goal is to extrude some of the tomato juice from the sundried tomatoes and to soften the tomatoes at the same time. When softened, add 1/3 cup of frozen green peas straight from the package. Cook until the peas have softened and the water is simmering. At about the same time, add the frozen basil cubes and allow to defrost. Then, season with about 2 tsps Montreal Steak Seasoning or to taste.

6. Lower the heat of the stove to low heat.

7. Using a rice spoon (a plastic-type of spoon that normally comes with a rice cooker), transfer the cooked rice to the pot. Mix in the liquid of the tomato mixture evenly throughout the rice.

8. Add the rest of the glass bowl's ingredients (pine nuts, onions, and ham cubes) to the cooking pot. The flavored oils from these ingredients are now transferred to the rice. Make sure that each strand of rice is evenly mixed with the flavors. You don't want to see white strands of rice. Taste the rice dish to see if you need to add any more seasoning. The dish shouldn't taste vinegary.

9. Transfer the rice to a glass container with a cover. Set aside. Serve immediately or reheat contents in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes.

10. A few reminders: Although ham has been cured, thus it doesn't get spolied easily, my personal rule of thumb for meat dishes is: Don't leave your dish in room temperature for more than 4 hours.

11. Store leftovers. Reheat in the microwave.

Some defintions:

Dutch Oven
A large, heavy pot or kettle, usually of cast iron and with a tight lid, used for slow cooking.

Ilocos vinegar or sukang Ilocos
This famous Philippine vinegar is made in the northern province of Ilocos out of sugar cane with some samak (Macaranga) leaf added. It is dark and pungent and used as an ingredient in Vigan Longanisa sausage as well as in many other regional recipes, as a dip and for medicinal purposes (disinfectant and on the forehead for fevers). Industrial Balsamic vinegar has been suggested as a substitute when the Ilocos product is not available.

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