Maybe it was because my mother wanted to introduce her family to exotic foods, or perhaps the A & P was having a sale on cans of Chinese vegetables. All I know is that she started putting a big bowl of meat and strange vegetables on the table. Some of them looked like white worms. Mom told us they were bean sprouts, but we kids were still suspicious.
Today I really like bean sprouts, but they were not my favorite until I got to the University of Wisconsin and discovered a neat little Chinese restaurant near Capitol Square. It was an inexpensive place to get a good meal on Sunday nights when the dining halls were closed, and in the 1960’s you and your date could each have a bottle of beer with your dinner.
Bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, even tofu all rank pretty high on my list of enjoyable foods. Not as high as barbecued burnt ends, Esther’s sour cream raisin pie or nice medium rare steak, but close. I even like a plate of old-fashioned Chop Suey like Mom used to make.
When our friend Alan mentioned that his mother’s Chop Suey recipe was still his favorite, I was interested in trying it. Alan obliged, I made it and can say that it is a lot like my mother used to make. It’s a recipe that puts a lot of food on the table without draining the food budget, and it introduces kids to some strange vegetables.
I did make a few changes to the recipe. Alan’s mother specified veal instead of beef. I couldn’t find any and used beef. The only Chinese vegetables I could find were labelled Chop suey vegetables. Both worked fine. After dinner, Jerri and I both thought that the Chop suey was a little saltier than we preferred, so I reduced the salt to a quarter teaspoon and the soy sauce to two tablespoons.
We were both pleasantly surprised at how tender, juicy and flavorful the meat was. It’s a good dish, and I can understand why Alan still likes it.
3/4 cup sliced onion
2 T vegetable shortening or oil
1/2 lb. boneless pork
1/2 lb. boneless veal or beef
2 – 3 cups hot water
1/4 tsp. onion salt
1 1/2 cups diced celery
2 T soy sauce
1/4 tsp. Accent
1 4 oz. can mushrooms, undrained
1 #2 1/2 can Chop Suey vegetables, undrained (29 oz., 3 1/2 cups)
2 T cornstarch
3 T cold water
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Slice the meat into thin strips, an eighth to three sixteenths-inch thick and two to three inches long. Clean and chop the celery into half-inch pieces.
Slice the onion into quarter-inch wide by two-inch long strips. Put two tablespoons shortening or oil in a covered skillet and cook the onions over moderate heat until they begin to turn golden. Remove the onions from the pan and brown the meat in the same pan. The meat should be slightly browned but not crisp. Bring about about three cups of water to a boil.
After the meat has browned, cover the meat with hot water and stir in the onion salt, cover the skillet loosely and simmer the meat for thirty to forty minutes. Add the celery, soy sauce and Accent and simmer another fifteen minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, chow mein vegetables and browned onion.
Mix two tablespoons cornstarch with three tablespoons cold water and add the mixture to the skillet along with a grind of black pepper. Bring back to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is clear and thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Pour into a serving bowl and serve with white rice. Offer soy sauce at the table in case somebody would like extra seasoning.
NOTES: Do not drain the mushrooms or vegetables. Omit the Accent if you wish. Alan’s mother’s directions said to pour the chop suey into a casserole and serve.