No one really knows where fried rice originated, but one thing is for sure. Many countries have adopted it as their own dish with variations (e.g., Spanish paella, Thai fried rice, Italian risotto, Indian biryani, French pilaf and Hawaiian fried rice).

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It’s easy to understand why fried rice is such a universal dish. Rice is the common thread, an extremely inexpensive ingredient, along with ingredients indigenous to each country. This nasi goreng (which literally means “rice fried” in Indonesian) is spicy and full of bright flavors; just the thing to pick you up on a crisp early fall night, since it is hearty and satisfying. In Indonesia, the taste can differ dramatically depending upon the region and the proximity to the ocean. Based on my research and testing, I came up with this adaptation that will perk up any cook’s culinary repertoire.

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For a good result, the rice should be allowed to cool to room temperature before making the dish.

So keep that in mind and plan ahead. If the rice is warm, it will become oily when stir-fried. I consider this a Seriously Simple dish because all of the preparation is done ahead of time.

The cooking will go quickly, so it’s essential to have all of the ingredients prepared and ready. That way the dish takes just a few minutes to put together.

I like to use serrano chilies but any small, hot, flavorful chile like jalapeno or Thai chilies will work well. Avoid Scotch bonnet or habanero chilies unless you like your food extremely hot and spicy. Finally, roasted peanuts may not be authentic, but their addition as a garnish looks pretty and tastes delicious! Select a cold beer to accompany this comforting dish.

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Indonesian-Style Fried Rice (Nasi Goreng with Shrimp) Serves 4 to 6

For the fried rice:

3 cups water
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1/4 cup peanut oil
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 pound mushrooms, cleaned and diced
1 red pepper, seeded and diced
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 small green or red chilies, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 pound fresh bean sprouts (about 2 cups)

For the garnish:
1/4 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
1/2 cup roasted shelled peanuts

Directions

1. At least three hours before preparing the dish: In a large saucepan with a lid, heat the water on medium-high heat until boiling. Add the rice and turn down the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and transfer the rice to a large cookie sheet or strip of wax paper to cool, separating any clumps of rice. Let cool to room temperature.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large wok or sauté pan on high heat. When the oil is hot and almost smoking, add the carrots, mushrooms and red pepper and stir-fry for about 1 minute or until slightly softened. Remove the vegetables to a side bowl and reserve.

3. Add the shrimp and scallions to the wok and toss every 15 to 20 seconds for 1 to 2 minutes or until the shrimp just turn pink. Remove the shrimp to a side bowl and reserve.

4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the wok. When the oil is very hot and almost smoking, stir-fry the shallots for 1 to 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger and chilies and toss for about 30 seconds or until they are aromatic.

5. Add the rice and spread the rice all around and halfway up the sides of the pan. Let the rice cook about 10 seconds and then toss to combine and coat the ingredients. Add the paprika, ketchup and soy sauce and toss to blend. Add the reserved vegetables and shrimp and toss again, making sure to evenly distribute the ingredients. Add the bean sprouts and toss once more. Taste for seasoning.

6. Transfer the ingredients to a large serving bowl or platter and garnish with the cucumber and peanuts. Serve immediately.

– Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.