Fried rice for a quick meatless meal

When you think “fried rice”, you probably think of the standard Chinese restaurant side dish, heavy on rice and oil, with a few vegetable bits and maybe pork or egg. Tastes good, but maybe it can be healthier? Yes. And because meat is entirely optional, fried rice can easily be vegetarian, or even vegan.

If you have leftover cooked rice, fried rice is easy. Sauté some vegetables in oil, add a protein or two, stir in the rice to heat through and season. Here are some basic steps to making your own personalized fried rice:

Choose the Rice

  • Brown
  • white
  • Jasmine
  • Basmati

My preference is brown, because it has a chewy texture and also more fiber and nutrients. But they all work fine. Jasmine and basmati will add a unique flavor. I would not use Arborio rice; that’s for risotto.

Pre-cooked rice makes the whole process easier. Plus using hot rice straight from the pot can be tricky, as it might be sticky. So if you’re cooking rice for some other meal, cook extra to have on hand.


  • Peanut
  • Canola
  • Soy or “vegetable”
  • corn
  • coconut fat

Fried rice needs a hot pan, and olive oil will not do. Toasted sesame oil is a great addition after the rice is cooked, because it adds a lovely flavor. But don’t cook with it. Corn oil can also add a corn-like flavor. My first choice is peanut and/or canola.

If you use coconut, I’d recommend cutting it with half oil, as coconut fat is extremely saturated. Speaking of saturated, butter would not work. It burns more easily and would add a decidedly non-Asian flavor.


Here’s where you can personalize the dish while also adding nutrients. Restaurant fried rice might have a few bits of celery and onion. I prefer fried rice that’s loaded with vegetables. Pick at least 3, maybe more. I’d estimate for each cup of cooked rice you want 1/2 cup of chopped raw vegetables (they do cook down).

  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • onion
  • scallion
  • celery
  • carrot
  • greens: kale, chard, spinach
  • peppers (any color)
  • cabbage
  • mushrooms
  • bok choy
  • green beans
  • peas/snow peas
  • edamame
  • kernel corn
  • zucchini/yellow squash
  • Daikon radish

If you’re adventurous you can try cubes of winter squash or halved cherry tomatoes. I wouldn’t use potatoes though, or beets. Turnips? Rutabagas? Your choice, but I’d definitely peel and slice very thin into matchsticks.

One thing to keep in mind for the vegetables: you do not want to over cook them. They should be sautéed quickly, with constant stirring until they’re just crispy. If you use frozen vegetables, thaw them a little before cooking.


If fried rice is your main dish, you need to add some protein foods. If you use meat or fish, pre-cook it or use leftovers. Cooking meat from raw while making fried rice could result in undercooked meat.

But why use meat? This can be the perfect meatless dish. Dairy foods like cheese won’t work, which makes the protein options simple:

  • tofu or tempeh
  • scrambled egg
  • nuts: peanuts, soy nuts, cashews
  • seeds: sunflower
  • beans?

The eggs need to be pre-cooked and chunked up a bit. Tofu and tempeh can be added straight from the package, cut into bite-sized pieces, and heated through. Or you can brown them ahead separately for more flavor. Nuts and seeds can be added as the vegetables are cooking, for a bit of browning.

Beans aren’t typically used in fried rice, although that doesn’t mean you can’t try. They do add protein, but I’d go easy on beans. The bean that would fit best is edamame, which you can buy frozen.


Again, seasonings can be really simple:

  • soy sauce
  • garlic
  • hot sauce/Sriracha
  • toasted sesame oil
  • ginger
  • chili paste
  • minced fresh cilantro
  • other Asian style sauces you might prefer
  • a squeeze of lime juice or dash or rice wine vinegar

Add seasonings to suit your own taste preferences. In my opinion, soy sauce, garlic, toasted sesame oil and a splash of vinegar or lime juice are key, but you might prefer a different combination. Curry powder or a curry paste would add a whole different flavor dimension.

Choose a large pan that can stand high heat. A wok is ideal, but a large skillet, such as cast iron, is also fine. Start by sautéing the vegetables, add the protein ingredients. When those are heated through, stir in the rice, breaking up clumps. Stir it around so the rice heats through. Stir in seasonings and turn off the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Kids can do this

If your teenagers are doing online school at home, they can take a break from the grind of computer classes and make their own fried rice lunch. The key is having ingredients handy and pre-chopped. This is especially handy for teens who are vegetarian or vegan, because there are fewer quick meal options for kids who avoid meat. Plus they can choose their own ingredients and seasonings and personalize the meal. You might have to remind them that kitchen clean up is part of the process.

Find more ideas about fried rice in Feed Your Vegetarian Teen 2nd Edition.

Copyright: All content © 2021 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.