Outside the Box: Eastern Exposure

At the ripe old age of 25, I like to think that I know myself pretty well. For instance, some known facts are: my favorite color is purple, I like dry humor, I have no sense of direction, and I fall into ruts. Not the kind of ruts the Boy loves, where deer are running around seducing each other and people like him are creeping up in a tree. No, the kind of rut I’m talking about is the one of routine: I like what I like and I don’t venture very well. I’m also a bit of a masochist, which is why I’m writing a blog where, for interest’s sake, I’ll need to go ahead and embrace the new and unfamiliar.

Which brings me to my next point: Asian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love picking up some greasy chow mein, and just destroying it right out of the perplexing little box. Unfortunately, much like my Asian Studies course in college, it intimidates me. I have no idea what’s in it, how they fit such an absurd amount of food in what appears to be a tiny little package, and what could possibly make it taste so. damn. good.

In addition to me stretching outside my comfort(food) zone, this blog is about compromise, so I said, “Hey [Boy], what kind of Asian food do you like?” He said stir fry with beef. I corrected him and said that he probably meant to tell me that he likes vegetable chow mein better, and we were off.

Chow Mein Stew

Inspired by Giada De Laurentiis’ “Vegetable Chow Mein”

Makes 4-6 servings
  • 8 ounces pea pods
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into matchstick-size pieces
  • 8 ounces thin rice noodles
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), divided
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 (9-ounce) bag of bean sprouts
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans cut baby corn
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups crunchy chow mein noodles

Boil a large pot of salted water and add the pea pods and carrots. Cook for one minute, then use a slotted spoon to remove the veggies and place into a bowl of ice water.

Add the rice noodles to the boiling water, and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside. Make sure not to overcook, cause they become sticky and mushy, and that’s just not appealing in any way.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over high heat, and add the noodles, ginger, and garlic. Cook until the noodles are slightly browned. Add the remaining veggies along with half the broth and half the EVOO. After 3 minutes add the remainder of the broth and the EVOO, along with the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and honey. Let everything boil up together until it reduces and thickens to your liking.

Serve the mixture in a bowl topped with the chopped green onions and crunchy chow mein noodles (around 1/4 to 1/2 cup per bowl). Have hot sauce at-the-ready so eaters can turn up the heat as they please.

We ended up with a stew sort of by accident, but it was a happy accident nonetheless. We both are partial to baby corn and bean sprouts, and with those additions I ended up going beyond Giada’s recommended amount of broth and oil. Although this didn’t have that distinct chow mein flavor of the slightly shady strip mall place by my parent’s house, I really enjoyed it. It was thick, rich, sweet yet salty yet spicy, with a variety of textures that brought me crunching and slurping to the bottom of the bowl.

While definitely outside my cooking comfort zone, this was absolutely lick-your-lips comfort food. Comfort food with an Asian hint of course, because why was I so full after what appeared to be a small bowl of stew? You’re a hard nut to crack, Asian food, with your mysterious flavors and portion size conundrums, but I’m not giving up on you just yet.


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