I have never been one of those cooks who can just toss ingredients together and come up with something delicious, let alone edible. Instead, I have a recipe for everything, even the things I make all the time, and have made for my entire cooking life. I even have recipes for my mom's chili and spaghetti sauces, despite the fact that she herself doesn't have a recipe for them and makes them from memory. I'm just too afraid that I'll forget a vital ingredient if I can't check things off a written list and everything will be ruined.
The list of dishes that I'm willing to tackle without a recipe is startlingly short: panini sandwiches, quesadillas, and garlic fried rice. The last of these holds a special significance in my heart, because it is a "recipe" that came from my friend Katherine, who threw it together one night when we were living together in college. We rented a house with two other girlfriends on Pershing, near campus, and while the other three girls lived in bedrooms on the second floor, I inhabited the attic, which had the unusual feature of not having a door. The stairs just emerged directly into the room, and while my housemates were more or less respectful of announcing their presence before barging in on me, that didn't stop smells from wafting into my room from the kitchen on the first floor.
On the days when Jena made epic, multi-pot batches of potato curry, this was most definitely a bad thing, since the smell of curry would permeate my room for days. One night, however, I was lured downstairs by the most delicious, savory smell imaginable. Katherine was cooking, and when I inquired as to what was producing that heavenly scent, she replied that it was fried rice.
Now, up until this point, I hated fried rice. I didn't like the texture, I didn't like the melange of different flavors all jumbled up together, and I especially didn't like all the bits of egg that were usually swirled through it. (I very seldom ate eggs through my college years; I had to be in a special mood, otherwise they completely grossed me out.) Nevertheless, this particular batch smelled so good, that when Katherine offered me some, I took her up on it.
Before I started eating, she warned me that it was garlic fried rice, and that was clearly the secret to it's alluring odor. When I took my first bite, it did, in fact, taste strongly of garlic, but not at all in an unpleasant way. In fact, I quickly went back for a larger helping after that tentative sample taste. I demanded to learn how she made it right away.
Ever since, I've been whipping up a batch of garlic fried rice whenever I had leftover rice on hand. I've come to prefer it with brown rice rather than white rice at this point, but other than that, the technique remains largely the same. Technique-wise, the only secret is mixing the rice with the raw egg before tossing it in the skillet. That way, the rice acts as a binder without creating overly assertive bits of egg in the finished product. There's never been a real recipe, other than that it always has very finely chopped carrots, about 5-7 cloves of garlic depending on the amount of rice, and soy sauce to taste. Sometimes I chop up leftover chicken and add it, or prepare a breast chicken specifically to add. I've also tossed in other leftover meat, as long as it's vaguely Asian in flavor profile. If I have them, I'll garnish with green onion.
The first time I ever made this dish for Justin, he immediately started brainstorming all the ingredients that would make this dish better: sriracha, snow peas, regular peas, tofu, bean sprouts... the list went on and on. But I was adamant; Katherine's garlic fried rice would remain as-is. The beauty of it lies in its simplicity, and the powerful memories it conjures up of sitting on the couch with my best friend, sharing food together. For me, this dish is a comfort food staple, and I'll always want to have it the way it's always been, crafted from a fond memory.