“Hunger is a hidden hardship that the pandemic has made visible, a persistent crisis that the pandemic has made worse,” my colleagues wrote back in January. Though the number of adults facing food scarcity (those reporting they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat within the past week) has decreased in recent weeks, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, the latest number still includes 18.5 million adults, almost 9 percent of the adult population.
There are myriad reasons for food scarcity; among them is access, or rather a lack thereof, to grocery stores or delivery. As such, many regularly rely on a well-stocked pantry to provide their meals, and it is with this intention that I will now be sharing pantry-focused recipes in this space every month. The foundation of these recipes will be shelf-stable and frozen foods — items that you might find in the center of the grocery store, among the aisles and apart from the fresh produce, meat, seafood and dairy along the periphery. Feel free to swap in fresh ingredients if they are available to you, but know that these recipes are meant to work without them.
To kick things off, I’m sharing a recipe for fried rice — a great dish to always keep in your back pocket that can utilize just about anything you want — that features Spam and pineapple as a nod to Hawaiian pizza.
Spam may be novel to some, but I remember eating it as a kid, sliced, fried and layered in a sandwich. The punch of salty umami that it brings is unparalleled — a true culinary marvel. Unfortunately, the canned meat often has to compete with the stigma of being just that — canned meat — when trying to win over new eaters. “For years Hormel Foods Corporation has been fighting the maligned reputation that its star product is somehow ‘mystery meat’ when really it’s just six ingredients plus water,” Eric Kim wrote in Food52.
However, that isn’t the case for a number of communities. Spam is extremely popular in Hawaii, the Philippines, South Korea and other places where U.S. soldiers were stationed during World War II, during which Hormel shipped more than 100 million pounds of it abroad to feed allied troops.
“We love the stuff with the whole of our hearts,” Sheldon Simeon writes in his new cookbook, “Cook Real Hawai’i.” “The porcine saltiness, the impossibly emulsified texture, the infinite shelf life — these are reasons why we add this humble king of canned luncheon meat to fried rice, saimin, wontons, or somen salad.” It is even viewed as a luxury item in South Korea, where it’s sometimes given as a gift during Lunar New Year. That same reverence isn’t always found in the continental United States, but those who embrace Spam do so with pride. “For many in the Asian American diaspora, openly loving the canned meat product means openly loving one’s culture, history, and skin, as well,” Kim wrote.
Spam comes in a number of flavors and varieties, such as hickory smoke, teriyaki and jalapeño. In this recipe, I recommend the “Lite” version for its reduced sodium, fat and calories, but whatever you have available will work. Similarly, with the rice and vegetables, any type of cooked grain can be used along with whatever canned, frozen or leftover vegetables you want to throw in. When shopping for canned pineapple, I prefer fruit packed in juice over heavy syrup for less added sugar, but again, either will do. (If it is packed in juice, save it to mix into a cocktail or top with seltzer to serve alongside the fried rice.)
This recipe comes together in a matter of minutes: Fry up the Spam and pineapple chunks (feel free to cut them into smaller pieces if you prefer) until the meat starts to brown and the fruit begins to caramelize, and then add in the rest of the ingredients, and you’re pretty much good to go. I like to fry the rice for longer than some recipes might suggest so it crisps up a bit and adds some textural contrast, but as long as it’s warmed through, dinner is ready.
Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or another neutral oil
- Two (8-ounce) cans pineapple chunks, preferably in pineapple juice, drained
- One (12-ounce) can Spam Lite, diced
- 4 cups cooked rice, preferably day-old
- One (15-ounce) can mixed vegetables, or vegetable of your choice, drained
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more for serving
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the pineapple and Spam and cook, stirring occasionally, until the Spam starts to brown and the pineapple starts to caramelize, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the rice, vegetables, soy sauce and garlic powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice starts to crisp up a bit, 5 to 7 minutes. Divide among bowls and serve hot, with soy sauce on the side.
Calories: 333; Total Fat: 13 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 42 mg; Sodium: 754 mg; Carbohydrates: 40 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 12 g.