Chop Suey is one dish that I resolve to prepare myself every time we have a gathering in the church. Simply put, Chop Suey is a dish made of a variety of vegetables, all half-cooked and delicately flavored with a little meat stock and oyster sauce. There is a plethora of antioxidants there as the veggies and herbs come in many colors — and we know from this article that antioxidants are simply plant pigments that also function as neutralizers of free radicals that cause inflammation in the body.
See, gatherings in our church (and really in most anywhere) usually serve meaty, fatty, greasy foods — high in fats and carbs and low in fiber, nutrients and antioxidants. Couple that with softdrinks and sugar-laden desserts and you have a sure-fire pro-inflammatory menu that is often the reason why strokes and heart attacks rise after Christmas season or feasts.
And see, I am not preachy when it comes to health. I don’t go around speaking up about health. I do not delight in being a party-pooper, pointing out the demerits of a dish. Truth be told, this blog is the only venue where I talk about health and apart from my immediate family, you, my blog readers, are the only ones who can take a peek into my brand of health nut-ness.
Now back to Chop Suey: This is a dish that is classy enough to land on a gathering menu. It is not too homely and plain like pinakbet, and it has a wonderful color palette that would look good on a table spread. But really, Chop Suey is a good way to counteract the artery-clogging effects of most party foods. In short, Chop Suey — along with fresh fruits and vegetable salads — may just be the saviour of an otherwise unhealthy meal.
A little history
Chop Suey is, of course, of Chinese origin and has a strange history. The term Chop Suey comes from the Mandarin adjectives “shap” and “sui” which mean odds and ends — really fitting nomenclature when you consider that it is a merry mix of many ingredients.
I break down Chop Suey into the following big groups of ingredients:
You can really use any kind of oil. Coconut oil is my favorite but sesame oil is a better-tasting oil.
You will often hear me say this: Do not scrimp on the herbs. I like the play of garlic, white and red onions, green and red bell pepper and a stalk of fresh celery.
You can use pork, beef tenderloin, chicken, chicken liver, gizzard, shrimp, quail eggs and tofu. In this recipe I used chicken meat and chicken liver but I also like to add in a handful of shrimps. If you’re vegetarian, go for tofu or mushrooms.
You’ll be amazed at the array of vegetables you’ll be taking in with every spoonful of Chop Suey. Here is the entire cast of characters, er, vegetables in the order in which I put them in:
- Sayote or chayote which is light green in color
- Singkamas which is pristine white
- Carrots which is bright orange
- Snap beans or Baguio beans which are green
- Cauliflower which is creamy white
- Broccoli which is deep green
- Cabbage or Chinese/Napa cabbage which are greenish white
Pretty colorful, right? You are under no obligation to get all these ingredients together, though. A few missing ingredients wouldn’t matter very much.
The meat portion takes care of the flavoring but a spoonful or two of oyster sauce would raise the umami level of this dish signficantly. Lastly, cornstarch dissolved in water would thicken the sauce so that everything gets coated with the juices of everything.
I really just wing this dish when I make it. But here’s how I generally do it.
Chop Suey, Filipino-style
- Serves 12 to 20 (rough estimate and in the context of a food gathering where there are other food choices around)
- Difficulty: moderate
- Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
- Cook time: 20 to 30 minutes
- Coconut or sesame oil
- 1 head of garlic, minced
- 1 big red onion, chopped
- 1 big white onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- Oyster sauce
- Cornstarch, 2 tbsp dissolved in half a cup of water
- green and red bell peppers, about 3 to 4 big pieces, chopped
- Chicken meat, 1 lb or half a kilo, chopped
- Chicken liver, ½ lb or ¼ kg, chopped
- Sayote, big piece, chopped as shown above
- Carrots, 3 medium pieces, chopped in florets
- Cauliflower, big head, separated into florets
- Cabbage, big, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large wok (I used a well-seasoned cast iron wok, but you can use any large frying pan or skillet or wok), heat up 2 tablespoons of oil. Saute the garlic, then the red and white onions and the celery.
2. Add in the chicken meat and season with salt. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes and then add in the chicken liver. Put in a tablespoon of oyster sauce, cover and cook for 2 just 2 minutes.
3. Add in the vegetables in the following order, at only 3 minutes of intervals between each, and at high heat, stirring after every addition.
- Sayote and carrots (and also singkamas if you have it)
- Cauliflower and beans (or snap peas if you have them)
- Cabbage and bell peppers
4. The veggies will sweat to form a little sauce, though you may need to add half a cup of hot water to increase the liquid volume. Taste and then season with salt and pepper and some more oyster sauce if needed.
5. Push aside one side of the veggies so you can see the sauce and then add in the cornstarch mixture little by little until you get the right thickness — not too runny, not too thick as to make the sauce gel. Take wok off the heat and serve hot. If not serving immediately, transfer to a serving dish and when it’s no longer giving off a lot of steam, cover with a lid until serving time. If you cover the skillet after cooking, the carryover heat will overcook the veggies and turn them mushy, which is bad.
You can see that I used my Chop Suey to counteract the rather unhealthy effects of a canned good that has been given to us over the New Year.
I hope this gets you to cooking delicious and nutritious Chop Suey. Please share your favorite way of doing this dish.