First Monday Menu: Chop Suey and Strawberry Shortcake

After a long April full of deadlines, I am back to blogging with May’s First Monday Menu.

Origin stories are varied, but chop suey seems to have been invented by Chinese Americans in the late 1800s. According to Wikipedia, E.N. Anderson, an anthropologist specializing in Chinese Food, traced chop suey to a similarly named Chinese dish meaning “miscellaneous leftovers”. This fits with the dish’s use during WWII.

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In my research, chop suey pops up everywhere. It’s in cookbooks, magazine articles, and product advertising. All recipes are similar and flexible. I’m assuming it was a popular dish for using up odds and ends in the pantry. The recipe I used today came from a chapter full of suggestions on cooking with meat during shortages and rationing. Numerous recipes using leftovers are suggested, including the chop suey you see here.

I chose this particular recipe because I think it showcases the flexibility of the dish. It’s from What Do We Eat Now? A Guide to Wartime Housekeeping by Helen Robertson, Sarah MacLeod, and Frances Preston. It was published in 1942. It’s a fantastic look at how changes were affecting home front housewives’ daily lives. I am always impressed by the ingenuity and bravery of women facing numerous challenges to running a smooth household.

What Do We Eat Now? suggests using a green salad and a fruit dessert to create a meal. I added a simple salad and strawberry shortcake. My pictures show ranch dressing on the salad. I want to point out that ranch dressing was not invented until the early 1950s, so it’s not technically accurate here. I used frozen strawberries and angel food cake for our strawberry shortcake. A variety of strawberry shortcake recipes existed in early 1940s cookbooks, so home front housewives were definitely serving this dessert during war years, especially if they grew their own strawberries in their Victory Gardens.

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Chop Suey

  • 2 c shredded meat
  • 2 tbsp fat
  • 1 c fresh OR one can mushrooms (optional)
  • 1/4 c sliced onion
  • 2 c shredded celery
  • 1/2 c shredded green pepper
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 can bean sprouts OR 2 c cooked shredded green beans
  • 1 1/2 c sliced uncooked radishes
  • soy sauce

Prepare meat. You may use cooked pork, turkey, veal, beef, chicken, or duck. If there isn’t enough, add a small amount of ham or freshly cooked meat. (Note: You can choose to use all freshly cooked meat, but this recipe was specifically for using leftovers.) Melt fat in pan. Saute onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, usually about 6 or 7 minutes. Blend in the flour. Add bean sprouts (or green beans), meat, and radishes. Heat. Season well. Serve over rice or fried noodles.

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Results

I like that this recipe shows how you can use whatever meat you have available and that some of the other ingredients are optional or may be switched out for something else. I think this recipe could be adapted to fit any vegetables you have on hand, as well.

My family was a little uncertain about trying chop suey, but I wanted to test it since I see it in so many different places in my research.  Everyone enjoyed it. Even my toddler loved this one. It was surprisingly flavorful and definitely filling. We used shredded chicken, green beans, and rice, but I think this would be just as good with turkey or beef served over noodles. I make sure all of my kids go to college armed with an arsenal of easy to make recipes. Chop suey will be a useful addition.

Let me know if you try a version of chop suey.

Have a great week!

 

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