When Chris and I were living in China, we found this tiny little Tibetan restaurant nestled in an alley behind the university campus. The owners were a big family of ethnic Tibetans who were rather intimidating when they didn’t smile, but warm and friendly when they did. Fortunately they smiled often, even the big burly guy who would pour us lukewarm Cokes and carefully package the paper cups into plastic bags, the better to carry them with. There were always a bunch of puppies running around and Tibetan music videos blaring from the computer in the middle of the restaurant.
We only ever ordered one dish at that restaurant. It was so good we never tried anything else. It was a fried rice dish flavored with curry and filled with chopped vegetables, wood-ear fungus, and…I seem to remember fried egg in there too. Or was it tofu? Really, I have no idea if that dish actually exists in Tibetan cuisine. It’s probably some mixture of Himalayan and Chinese cuisine, using the ingredients that were locally available.
I started craving it something fierce last night and decided to try my hand at recreating it. They used medium-grain rice, which made for a slightly moister and heavier fried rice dish than your typical Chinese fried rice. Fresh shiitake mushrooms would be a lovely earthy complement to the wood-ear fungus, but you can use slivers of cremini mushrooms in a pinch. I got the spices pretty close; a bit of Indian curry powder and cumin did the trick. And a good handful of chopped baby bok choy lightened up the dish.
As always with fried rice dishes, leftover rice is best, because the grains are drier and separate more easily while stir-frying. However, I didn’t have leftover rice, so I made a fresh pot of steamed medium-grain Calrose rice, and then left it in the pot on very low heat, uncovered, for an extra 5-10 minutes. This dried out the grains enough to use in the stir-fry. Remember that you don’t need to add as much water to medium-grain rice as you do to long-grain rice. I find that a 1:1 ratio works well.
Tibetan Fried Rice
4 cups cooked medium-grain rice (I used Calrose)
6 medium dried wood-ear fungus
6 medium fresh shiitake mushrooms (or cremini)
1 small tomato, diced
2 cups chopped baby bok choy
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tsp Indian curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
Before you start, rehydrate the dried wood-ear mushrooms by soaking them in hot water for about 20 minutes. Rinse them thoroughly, then cut the rehydrated wood-ear mushrooms and the shiitake mushrooms into strips.
Pour a good glug of oil (about 3 tablespoons) into a wok set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, stir-fry the wood-ear mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms until shiitakes give up their water. Add the diced tomato and baby bok choy, and stir-fry briefly until bok choy is just beginning to wilt. Push vegetables to the side of the wok, and add the beaten eggs to the center of the wok. Scramble the eggs, and when cooked, mix them into the vegetables.
Add the curry and cumin powders and stir them into the vegetables until fragrant, being careful not to let the spices burn (you may need to turn the heat down slightly). Add the cooked rice, breaking up any clumps. Stir together the vegetables and the rice. Add water tablespoon by tablespoon, stir-frying constantly, just until the curry sauce coats the rice grains well.