Recipe #47: CHOP SUEY

Is chop suey Chinese? American? Nobody seems to know the answer.

Based on the name alone, chop suey (literally means assorted pieces) is most likely of Chinese origin or created by Chinese-American immigrants. Bits and pieces of leftover meat and vegetables are mixed together and stir-fried to avoid wastage, accidentally creating an iconic and versatile Asian dish.

Not to cause confusion, the American chop suey is not the same as the Asian chop suey — not even closely similar. The former is an American pasta dish which is influenced by Italian-American flavor. The name, however, was borrowed from China because it is sometimes prepared using a hodgepodge of meat and vegetables.

Asian countries, such as Thailand and India, have their own versions of chop suey. Some are sweet, some are spicy. In Indonesia, it’s called can cai which is quite similar to the Filipino version. The Filipino chop suey itself has so many ways to prepare. My lola’s version, called vianda (probably has a Spanish influence), contains chorizo de bilbao or Chinese chorizo which adds a lovely aromatic sweetness into the sauce.

Chop Suey Recipe

Chop Suey can be served as a main or as a side to your meat dishes. In Filipino fiestas and other special occasions, chop suey is served to add variety in a usually meat-centric buffet table. Enjoy it with steamed rice, or stir-fry it with your favorite noodles, such as canton or bihon, to make a beautifully delicious chow mein or pancit.

In this recipe, I’m using chicken meat, but you can also use thinly sliced pork, beef, or seafood. Shrimp is highly preferred. Some recipes may also call for tripes or chicken liver. Hard-boiled quail eggs are kids’ favorite. Go vegan by removing the meat or by replacing it with tofu or mushroom, minus the oyster sauce.

Aside from the ones listed below, there are other kinds of vegetables that you may or may not add, such as bell pepper, bean sprouts, patola (luffa), upo (bottle gourd), and green beans. The choice of vegetables is all up to you.

Ready? Warm up your wok and grab the recipe below:

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Lola’s Kitchen Tips: Top 6 Essential Filipino Seasonings

Filipinos around the world love to cook and eat. But no Filipino kitchen can be complete without these basic seasonings that help us achieve that distinct Filipino flavor we have always loved. Here’s a list of the most common seasonings that can be found in a typical Filipino kitchen.

1. Salt 

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You can’t cook without salt. Well, technically you can, but who wants to eat bland food anyway…unless you’re on a salt-free diet. However, when we talk about Filipino food, or any other cuisine for that matter, salt will always be one of the key ingredients.

There’s more to salt than saltiness. Salt brings out the flavor of the food by combining the various tastes of different ingredients in order to create a flavor that makes every dish distinct from each other. There are many types of salt worldwide, but inside the Filipino kitchen, the two most popular types are rock salt and table salt.

Rock salt is cheap, easy to find, and natural. What I like about rock salt is its unique straight-from-the-sea flavor. Its coarse texture makes a great salt rub on fish and other meat to remove the unpleasant smell and to enhance the flavor. I prefer using rock salt over table salt when cooking because it makes the food tastes so much better.

Rock salt is not only great for savory dishes; it also perfectly complements the sourness and sweetness of food. That’s why I love sprinkling some on my fruits!

Table salt, on the other hand, is great to be placed on what its name suggests – on the table. I rarely use table salt for cooking because it has a stronger salty flavor which I personally find difficult to measure. Also, I find the flavor unnatural because it underwent certain chemical processes, especially if it contains enhancers, such as iodine, as an additional nutritional supplement. But just to give you an idea (in case you run out of rock salt), to substitute one for the other, my estimated ratio is 1 measure of rock salt to ¼ measure of table salt.

2. Pepper

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Pepper is the perpetual partner of salt. Although salt and pepper are not distinctively Filipino, these two seasonings will always be the most popular food enhancers in our kitchen, pepper being the top among the spices. It simply heightens the flavor of your food to a new level.

Like salt, there are various kinds of pepper, although in the country, black pepper is the most commonly used. What I would like to focus on is pepper’s different types of texture and their uses. We have three: whole peppercorns, coarsely ground, and fine ground.

Peppercorns are whole dried seeds of the black pepper plant. In Filipino dishes, peppercorns are typically used in cooking Adobo, Paksiw, and Nilaga.

Coarsely or roughly ground pepper is great for general cooking usage. I use this as a rub when marinating various types of meat. Its rough texture is effective in bringing out the natural flavor of the food.

Fine ground pepper is perfect as a table condiment to conveniently adjust the flavor of the food to your satisfaction.

Pound peppercorns with mortar and pestle or grind it with a pepper mill to produce fresh ground pepper at home. Take control of the fineness  depending on your needs. Better yet, bring home some bottles of McCormick Black or White Pepper for a hassle-free cooking. Now, it’s easier for you to achieve that special Pinoy flavor sans the tedious grinding and pounding.

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