How to make fried rice, plus Thai-style Vegetarian Basil Fried Rice

I love fried rice. It is a quick, complete meal and is a great way to use up odds and ends/whatever’s currently in season. Fried rice is really a very basic food form, you just need to tweak a few things here and there depending on what you have on hand.

Having visited the fantastic Carrboro Farmer’s Market this weekend, I had (among other things) a huge, beautiful bunch of basil ($1!) and some nice summer squash hanging out in my fridge. Perfect for a Thai-inspired fried rice. Look at the beautiful bicoloring!

I had originally purchased the basil to make this Tomato Bacon Cappelini, and although the recipe was good, it didn’t blow me out of the water. I suspect that might have to do with me having to halve the amount of bacon (burned it) and no green onions… Perhaps I’ll try it again someday. But back to the matter at hand.

This fried rice starts with finely chopped garlic and hot chili peppers. If I was doing this SEA Chinese style, I’d likely add some fresh chopped ginger as well. For the chilis, I used two, and they provided just enough heat for me. Granted, peppers vary, so adjust accordingly. Normally these two would be crushed together in a mortar and pestle, which honestly gives better flavor (but is more time-intensive). However, I don’t own one, so I just began chopping everything up.

I did switch partway through and take out the big guns, though — my dear Chinese cleaver that was a gift from my mother.

A few good whacks with the flat side of the cleaver, and already I could smell the juices mingling.

I used firm, silken tofu for this recipe. You can substitute any sort of meat you prefer. Although I did chop it, note that I didn’t really bother to neatly cube up the tofu — I knew it would crumble when cooked regardless. Using meat will add good flavor, but it still is excellent with tofu.

Fried rice is supremely flexible. There are a few general things to note about making it:

  1. Your rice should be “day old,” that is, don’t use “fresh” rice. So if you’re cooking rice for another meal, just make some extra and save it in the fridge for fried rice the next day. There’s something about the cooling off period that allows the rice to firm up, so it absorbs less oil and fries up better (vs. making mushy fried rice).
  2. Your pan must be very hot! This allows heat to be well distributed. Because the pan will be so hot, though, you must be careful to constantly be flipping the rice that is at the bottom of the pan to prevent burning.
  3. Fried rice comes together very quickly — but because it does, you need to be ready! Have all ingredients prepared (e.g. chopped) and ready to go once you begin putting things in the pan.
  4. Small pieces are key — it’s all about high-heat cooking, so make sure that everything for your fried rice is cut into smallish pieces to allow them to be evenly cooked.
  5. If you want to add more protein/color, add eggs. Wait until you’re done with cooking the whole dish, and then push the rice up to the sides to expose some of the pan. Add more oil, and crack your eggs into the pan. Allow them to set slightly, then cover them with the hot rice. Give it a minute to cook from the heat of the rice and then stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so no egg burns. Let the whole mixture cook a minute or two more, stirring continuously. By adding these at the end you avoid getting rubbery, overcooked eggs.

How I cook — with my computer playing music, cross-referenced recipes, and at least tonight, multiple people talking with me. 🙂 Wish I could’ve shared a bowl of rice with all of you!

I’m going to give two recipes for fried rice — one is general, and can be flexibly used to fit whatever you have on hand (as long as you have a few flavoring ingredients). The other is the Thai basil fried rice I made for myself tonight.

Generic Recipe for Fried Rice (“Refrigerator Fried Rice”)

  • Savory roots: Garlic, ginger, onion
    These provide the burst of flavor, and are necessary to make your fried rice taste good!
  • Sauces: Oyster, hoisin, soy sauce, ABC sweet soy sauce
    Pick one or two of these to add additional flavor
  • Protein: Egg, tofu, chicken, beef, turkey, spam, hot dogs, soy protein “meat,” etc.
    Pretty much anything can be used here, just be flexible!
  • Rice: Day old, white or brown
    I’d probably avoid short grain (e.g. sushi rice) as it will likely be too soft to fry properly. This is a great way to use up leftover Chinese takeout rice!
  • Vegetables: Whatever’s in season and can be cut into small pieces
    A great addition are frozen mixed veggies like these — they can be added into the hot rice mixture frozen (they’ll defrost quickly as they
    are small), and are super convenient to keep on hand in the freezer. I always stock up at the grocery when they’re on sale! Also, they make prep easier — no chopping! 🙂
  • Seasonings: Salt, sugar, pepper (white or black)
    As always, to taste. You might be surprised at the sugar, but a little bit (teaspoon) can really round out the flavors. If you use sweet soy sauce, don’t add additional sugar.
  • All-in-one: Leftover stirfy
    This is the super-cheater-version, but one I do a lot! If you’ve already made a stirfry (or have takeout), use this as your protein/sauce/vegetable/seasoning ingredient, and supplement it with more/less of anything else you have on hand as needed. If using this, add it during the “protein” step listed below.


  1. Heat oil in wok or large saucepan. Add 2-3 tablespoons diced savory seasonings and pan fry until fragrant.
  2. Add in your protein, and cook until done. It will absorb flavors from the savory-infused oil.
  3. Add sauces to the protein, and allow the sauce to sink in slightly through cooking.
  4. Add in your already cooked rice, stir so that sauce is evenly blended throughout rice. Taste to make sure the rice has enough flavor — if not, adjust seasonings.
  5. Once rice is hot throughout, add vegetables, stirring well between additions and giving time to allow the internal temperature of the mixture to get hot after each addition. Make sure you maintain a hot wok throughout!
  6. Add seasonings as desired.
  7. Serve!

An example of fried rice, made from the Spicy Garlic Eggplant leftovers:

Vegetarian Thai Basil Fried Rice

Very loosely adapted from Thai Food Tonight: Thai Basil Chicken Fried Rice

Serves: 4


  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 Thai bird chili peppers
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 block tofu
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 4 cups rice, already cooked and “day old” (see above notes)
  • 1 pound of summer squash, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • About 2 cups fresh basil leaves


  1. Finely chop garlic and chili together. If you have a mortar and pestle, use that to crush them together.
  2. Heat oil in a wok/saucepan on high heat. Add garlic/chili mixture, and stirfy until fragrant (but not burnt!)
  3. Add in chopped block of tofu, allow to warm up.
  4. Add sauces and sugar, and continue to stir fry to allow tofu to soak up flavors.
  5. Add rice and stir fry for several minutes until sauces are blended with rice and rice is hot. Taste to make sure the rice has enough flavor — if not, adjust seasonings.
  6. Add chopped squash, stir fry for a few minutes until squash is cooked and the mixture is hot.
  7. Push rice to the side, add extra oil if necessary, and crack eggs into the wok. Scramble in the small area of exposed pan until eggs are partially set, then cover with hot rice and continue to stir fry to finish cooking egg and distribute throughout the dish.
  8. Add basil leaves, and thoroughly mix into rice. Leaves will wilt due to the heat, no need to cook the dish further.
  9. Serve hot.


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