At the Hunger Awareness Project kickoff meeting last week, Lisa Goddard, the Online Marketing Director at CAFB, said that she had no real ideas on what to expect out of the food bloggers this week, and she liked that. She said that each face who comes into the Capital Area Food Bank has a completely different story, from the homeless man living on the street, to the mother of three who, although still fully employed, still just needs a little something extra to fill her pantry because she's unable to do so on her own means.
We're a few days into the project and I continue to be amazed as to the different stories that are emerging out of everyone else's experiences who are also on the project (Check out the other blogs as well, if you haven't gotten a chance already). Many of the bloggers, such as Something to Chew On and Austin Farm to Table, are diving full on into the hunger experience, eating nothing but stuff from the sample list for an entire week. As for us, we kind of made the executive decision to work with the list kind of like a Top Chef challenge. We want to produce some reasonably tasty Asian-inspired dishes made largely from the sample list with a few low-cost additions. The reason for this is, first, because we're much more familiar with Asian cooking than any other kind. But also our hope is that maybe (just maybe) a family who takes from the CAFB regularly who might be a little weary of Hamburger Helper and spaghetti marinara might somehow stumble upon these recipes and eat some dishes they might not normally get to eat.
Today's recipe is probably not one that's unfamiliar to any of you: garlic fried rice. Once again, the ingredients are mostly taken from the sample list of items visitors to the Capital Area Food Bank may receive:
- 4 cups of white rice
- 1 can of mixed vegetables (any mix will do, but we used peas and carrots)
- Any protein that is available (chicken, pork, beef)
In addition, we are adding the following, which might already be available in many kitchens or at most would cost a few dollars at the grocery store:
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup chopped green onions
- Soy sauce
- Salt and pepper
The first step is the heat up a big wok or any large frying pan (with high sides, if possible) with a tablespoon of oil. Break the eggs open and scramble. Once the egg is mostly solidified, mix in the garlic, followed by the rice. As an aside, Mama Ren insists that the rice you add should be as old as possible to fully maximize the flavor of the rice. I will add that freshly cooked rice seems to work just fine and rice that is over 3 days old should probably be thrown out for safety's sake.
Stir-fry the rice and eggs until everything is hot (should be about 5 minutes depending on how cold the rice was initially). Next add in bite-size pieces any pre-cooked protein and stir fry for 2 minutes.
(Just like the congee, this dish goes great with whatever you have, leftover rotisserie chicken, pork chops, whatever.)
Drain the mixed vegetables and add them in as well, mixing while you add. Add in some soy sauce (to taste, although adding too much may make the rice soupy) and add salt and pepper (also to taste). Lastly add in the green onions and stir fry for another minute. Let sit for 5 minutes while the sauces absorb into the rice and it's ready to serve.
We make this dish a lot because it is fun to make and there is a lot of room for creativity. Sometimes we like using some green curry, other times we'll mix in some oyster sauce, fish sauce, and fresh basil for more of a Thai twist. But in almost all instances we like to use fresh vegetables, whatever we have lying around. Sometimes in a pinch I've used frozen vegetables, but this was the first time we've used canned vegetables and it was a pretty noticeable difference. Even as someone who is pretty adamant about the importance of eating vegetables with every meal, for a split-second I wondered if I should leave the canned vegetables out of the recipe.
This brings to light something which, in my mind, is a key issue in hunger awareness. Even if you are provide enough food for you family in terms of sustenance, it is simply not cost-effective to make the choice to eat healthy.
If we were making this dish like we normally do, I would have added in some bell peppers, celery, some broccoli, and maybe some carrots, but that would have increased the cost of the dish by about five times. Even just adding one fresh vegetable ingredient might double it.
A few weeks ago in the Austin Chronicle, Belinda Acosta wrote an article about the ABC show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" that pointed out the fact that it's somewhat unfair to lambast middle Americans for making poor food choices when in reality it's not that feasible economically:
"[W]hen it comes right down to it, it's more profitable to create processed, unhealthy food than food that is good for the American people. When a person of limited means is trying to decide between a bundle of fresh broccoli and a bag of processed food that only requires the addition of a cheap cut of meat or pasta to feed a whole family, what do you think the logical choice is?"
With this in mind, it makes it all the more impressive that the Capital Area Food Bank boasts one of the largest fresh produce distributions in the country. The Fresh Food for Families program distributes an average of 30 pounds of food to more than 3,600 families each month.
When it comes right down to it, my distaste for canned vegetables might be seen as just me being overly picky. But it is quite the blessing that so many families, thanks to the CAFB, actually get to make that choice.