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Carb Solutions: Fried Rice

Image of Fried Freekeh
By Dennis Linden

Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Firstly, be assured that this feature has nothing to do with cauliflower. There are hundreds of mock-rice recipes on the internet that use this veggie as the main ingredient and I have tried several of them. To be honest, while this tasty member of the brassica family is great steamed, roasted, mashed, served raw with a mayo-curry dip and even makes into a pretty good pizza dough…it’s not rice or rice-like, no matter how many classic rice-supporting condiments are paired with it in an attempt to fool the palate. If it looks like a cauliflower and walks like a cauliflower, then...

Fried rice used to be one of my favorite go-to dishes for leftovers back in my pre-Diabetes 2 days. Just combine white rice, a few eggs plus whatever else I could find in the ‘frig, accented with soy sauce / stir-fried in sesame oil and I was good to go! Once diagnosed, white rice has been just a fond culinary memory with its over-the-top glycemic score of 91. And I’ve been looking for a reasonable facsimile ever since. While brown rice does have a slightly lower glycemic load than white rice due to a higher fiber content, the carb count is still enough to spike blood sugar during the metabolism’s starch-to-sugar conversion process.

Freekeh is a highly nutritious whole grain that has been a favorite in Arabian, Egyptian and North African cuisines for more than 2,000 years. The grain has a nutty, smoky flavor and crunchy texture due to its production process. Freekeh is the green heads of wheat, picked when still very immature. The wheat is dried, roasted to extract the seeds, smoked and then dried again. Freekeh has three times the fiber and protein found in brown rice. The grain contains resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that has far less of an impact on blood sugar than other types of carbohydrate. Freekeh also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, vital carotenoids that support eye health and help prevent age-related macular degeneration.

With all that nutritional stuff going for it, I thought I would try subbing the grain in a fried rice recipe as I continue to search for a good replica for the iconic dish. At least I would be starting with a real grain rather than a head of cauliflower! The results were certainly worth a second serving – especially knowing that the dish was spiking nothing more than my taste buds! As mentioned, Freekeh does have a slightly crunchier texture to it than rice, which did take me a couple of batches to overcome…sure sounds like a good subject for a blog!

Like BBQ sauce for chicken, everyone has an opinion on the “right” way to prepare fried rice. The recipe appearing in this feature is my right way. Use your own set of ingredients and prep protocols, if you prefer -- just sub in Freekeh for the rice, thus swapping out empty carbs for an extra helping of fiber, protein and nutrients! BTW, another big nutritional upgrade over the classic fried rice dish is using Melissa’s Shelled Edamame in lieu of the more traditional ingredient of small green peas. The edamame beats out the peas with more vitamins, minerals and protein content as well as being twice a flavorful.

To take some of the natural crunch out of Freekeh, cook it like spaghetti, not rice. That is, fill a pot with a lot more liquid than the directions call for, which is a 5:2 cup ratio on the Melissa’s package. Cook at a rolling simmer until the Freekeh seems tender, then pour off most of the water by tipping the pot while holding the lid on (do not strain), then leave pot covered and off the flame for 5-10 minutes while the Freekeh absorbs the remaining liquid in the pot. This method will give the Freekeh a slightly fluffier, softer consistency. FYI: 1 cup of uncooked Freekeh yields about 3 cups cooked.

Of course, to replicate traditional fried rice, the above cooking tip needs to be performed a day ahead since day-old rice is the key to this dish. In fact, it is best to spread the cooked freekeh in a single layer on a baking sheet to cool completely and then refrigerate overnight to allow the grain to lose all excess moisture. I found that this overnight chill also keeps the Freekeh from clumping together during the stir-fry, which made for a quick and even cook as the rest of the ingredients are layered into the pan.

So, without further ado, below is my preference for those aforementioned ingredients to be layered and instructions on the order I usually do it. Constructing a fried rice dish, or in this case fried Freekeh, has always been a fun process for me. It does take a bit of planning to cook and chill the grain overnight as well as pre-cooking the edamame and sliced egg before starting this recipe. Though I did not expect to actually replicate the original completely, I must say that Freekeh can come very close in the texture and flavor department when handling properly. And it’s certainly an improvement over trying to pretend that a head of cauliflower walks like a sack of rice. Enjoy this alternative!

Pan-Fried Freekeh
Image of ingredients

1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
4 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
4 large Eggs, lightly beaten, divided
8 ounces Lean Boneless Pork, chopped small
1¾ cups thinly sliced Green Onions, divided
2 teaspoons grated fresh Ginger
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
4 cups cooked Freekeh, chilled overnight
½ cup Soy Sauce
1 package Melissa’s Shelled Edamame, slightly steamed
½ cup Carrots, julienned or matchstick-cut
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Cilantro
Sea Salt & fresh Ground Pepper, to taste

Image of cooking vegetables with eggs
Heat vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of eggs; swirl to coat bottom of pan evenly. Sprinkle with pepper and dash of salt; cook 3 minutes or until egg is done. Remove from pan, thin slice and set aside.
Image of cooking pork and freekeh
Using the same pan or a wok. Heat 2 Tablespoons of the sesame oil over medium-high heat. (A) Sauté pork pieces until just starting to turn color, then add 1 cup onions, ginger, and garlic; stir-fry for 1 minute. (B) Add in egg slices and cooked freekeh, stir-fry for another 3-4 minutes.
Image of stir fry
Add the cooked edamame, carrots, soy sauce, the remaining green onions and sesame oil, stir-fry for 3 minutes. Lastly, mix in the other half of whisked eggs, cilantro, s & p, stir-fry for 1 more minute and serve immediately.
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