Many people claim they don’t have time to cook fresh meals “from scratch.” In Tom’s Kitchen, Grist’s food editor discusses some of the quick and easy things he gets up to in … well, his kitchen. Forgive the lame iPhone photography.

Fried riceMy three food groups, representin’ on one plate.(Tom Philpott)When I think about nutrition and “food groups,” I think of three major categories: 1) whole grains, which provide fiber and energy-giving complex carbs; 2) concentrated protein sources such as  beans, nuts, eggs, meat, and cheese; and 3) rich-colored fruits and vegetables, which bring all manner of nutrients, both macro and micro.

Combine these with the gifts of the allium family — onions, garlic, etc.; key spices such as chile and black pepper; and a few condiments, and you’ve got delicious and healthy food.

And that’s really how I think through a meal. Lately, for a fast lunch, I’ve been doing fried rice, bringing together an element from each of my groups: brown rice, farm eggs, and lamb’s quarters, which is a nutrient-dense, delicious leafy-green weed that thrives in cultivated fields, garden beds, and in my case, a finished compost pile.

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Sometime early in the week, I’ll cook up some brown rice and have it ready in the fridge. When I get hungry, I go grab some lamb’s quarters, spring onions, and green garlic from the garden, then throw together a flavorful, filling fried-rice dish in just a few minutes. (It also makes a satisfying light dinner.)

Here’s how I did it today, with variations offered.

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Fried rice with sautéed greens

First, heat a large cast-iron skillet over low heat, and then assemble and prep the ingredients.

Ingredients for dishMise en place is French for “everything in place,” ready to cookMise en place

• A good handful of leafy greens for each person eating, cleaned and sliced thin. Greens are a major element of the dish; don’t skimp. Mature lamb’s quarters work great; but you can also use mature spinach, and mustard greens, kale, or even collards.

• An egg for each person, beaten until just uniformly yellow. (Don’t over-beat.) With so few ingredients in the dish, the egg plays a key role, so use the freshest, local-ist, free-rangiest ones you can find.

• Some cooked brown rice. I use short-grain because I like its nutty flavor and toothy texture; other kinds work well, too. Each cup of raw rice, cooked, makes about three generous servings.

• Aromatic vegetables, prepped. For one serving, I used three spring onions, white parts only, chopped; and two small cloves of green (uncured) garlic, chopped fine. You could also use about a half a small onion per person, chopped, in place of the spring onions. In addition, you’ll want some fresh ginger, peeled (with a spoon works great) and chopped; and some fresh chiles, chopped, or dried chile flakes — about a half-teaspoon each, per person.

• Condiments! Soy sauce (my absolute favorite brand is Ohsawa Organic Nama Shoyu Unpasteurized Soy Sauce for its depth of flavor,  umami, and just-right saltiness) and rice wine vinegar.

• Some oil for cooking. I’ve been using organic canola oil.


Rice and egg in panThe egg cooks on low heat, until just set around the edges(Tom Philpott)Add enough oil to the bottom of the pan to cover, turn heat to medium, and add all the aromatics. (Note: if you’re using mature onion, separate it from the other aromatics and put it in first. Cook, stirring until soft, and then add the others.)

Stand at the stove, stirring. You want to cook the aromatics until they smell wonderful, but don’t burn them. If you’re using spring onions, it will only be a minute or two.

Stir the greens into the aromatics. Add a little liquid — I use a splash of soy sauce and a splash of water — and cook, stirring often. You want the greens to cook until just tender. It will just take a few minutes with lamb’s quarters or spinach. With kale or collards, cover and turn heat to low; let them cook, stirring occasionally. When the greens are just tender, add the rice. Stir-fry it for a minute or so, letting it heat up and absorb flavor. Turn heat to low. Make a round, clear space in the center of the pan by piling the greens around the edges.

Add a thin drizzle of oil to the clear space; move it around with a spatula so it roughly covers the clearing. Add the egg. I sometimes give the cooking egg a drizzle of soy sauce. Let it cook until it just sets. Turn heat off, and move a metal spatula under the egg and flip it onto the rice. Now toss the whole thing to combine. Add a dash of soy sauce and a dash of rice vinegar and toss again. Taste, correct for soy sauce, and serve immediately.