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Chopsui: A Dish That Celebrates Leftovers and Creativity

Chopsui, or as it’s traditionally known, chop suey, is a beloved culinary invention that embodies the spirit of resourcefulness and inclusivity. Often cited as a Chinese-American creation, this dish has a backstory that’s as mixed and varied as its ingredients. And whether you call it by its Americanized name, or refer to it as “nieces of the week” like they do in Mexico, the essence remains the same: It’s a dish that takes whatever you’ve got and turns it into something delicious.

The Basic Anatomy of Chop Suey

Traditionally, chop suey is made by stir-frying pieces of meat like chicken, beef, shrimp, or pork with vegetables such as celery, green peppers, and green beans. Over the years, the recipe has seen many variations, incorporating mung bean sprouts, Chinese bean sprouts, and fava beans among other ingredients. Serve it over a bed of freshly steamed white rice, and you’ve got a hearty, customizable meal.

The Folklore: Two Stories, One Dish

There are a couple of stories about how this dish came into existence. One version credits the dish to Lee Hung Chan, an aristocrat who was visited by American friends late at night and, finding nothing special to offer, directed his chefs to whip up a dish using whatever was on hand.

The second story attributes chop suey to hungry sailors who walked into a Chinese restaurant near closing time. The staff, wanting to feed them but left with only odds and ends, threw together a hodgepodge that became the chop suey we know today.

Chopsui: The Ultimate Leftover Makeover

Chop suey is more of a concept than a rigid recipe. It thrives on leftovers and spare ingredients. The beauty of this dish is its adaptability; it’s a forgiving recipe that lets you experiment. Here’s a simple base recipe to get you started:

  • 2 cups leftover meat (chicken, beef, shrimp, pork)
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables (celery, bell peppers, green beans)
  • 1 cup bean sprouts (mung bean or Chinese)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch (optional, for thickening)
  1. Preparation: Chop all the meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Stir-Fry: Heat oil in a large pan or wok over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add Meat: Add the leftover meat and stir-fry until it’s heated through.
  4. Add Vegetables: Add the mixed vegetables and bean sprouts. Stir-fry until the vegetables are tender but still crisp.
  5. Season: Add salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Mix well.
  6. Thicken: If you like a thicker sauce, mix cornstarch in water and add it to the pan. Stir until the sauce thickens.
  7. Serve: Serve hot over a bed of freshly cooked white rice.

So next time you’re staring at an array of leftovers and asking yourself, “What’s for dinner?” remember, Chopsui is the answer. It’s more than a dish; it’s a philosophy of making something out of nothing, and finding deliciousness in the everyday.

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