April 06, 2010

American chop suey | tangy carrot and cabbage salad

My mother grew up during difficult economic times, and money was tight in her household. I don't know exactly what her diet was like, but I do know she developed an aversion to foods she thought of as the foods one would have to eat if one were poor. She despised foods she thought of as "filler foods" which generally included things like grains or pasta. Pasta was not comfort food to her, it was something you had to eat if you couldn't afford to buy anything else. When we ate at Chinese restaurants, for example, I was told not to fill up on the steamed rice, and when she made things like meatloaf or hamburgers she never added breadcrumbs or other fillers. She added eggs and seasonings.

During the early years of raising a family, my parents didn't have much money. My mother ran the household on a strict and tight no-frills budget. I wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes from my cousins (which I loved, by the way). However, the one thing my mother wouldn't compromise on was her idea of what we should eat. My mother trimmed corners in other areas in order to put meat on the table nearly every night. We had good cuts of meat every evening that my father was home for dinner, and chicken, hamburgers or occasionally fish when he wasn't. My mother favored eye roast, steak, pot roast, chops and such — no spaghetti on our plates. There also was always a fresh salad, and sometimes frozen or canned vegetables. (I didn't even know fresh vegetables existed.) She seldom spent food budget money on soft drinks, chips or other junk food, saving it all for the good stuff. Lucky me, right?

Naturally, all I wanted was noodles, and for that I had to turn to my father. My father was not much of a home-arts kind of guy (this is an understatement in the extreme) but there were a few things he would cook if hounded enough. He could make pizza from scratch (learned from owning an Italian restaurant), grilled chickpeas (learned from his mother), and American chop suey (learned when he was a cook in the army). American chop suey was a mix of ground beef, tomato sauce and macaroni that I believed was something only my father made, and I loved it, though my mother wouldn't touch the stuff. I recently had my memory jolted by a post on Mitten Machen in which Mary provided a description and veganized recipe using tempeh, for this homey dish. What a shock! Naturally, I had to make it as soon as possible, and although I only had linguine instead of the small pasta traditionally used in the recipe, it was fabulously delicious. (Both Mary and I used quinoa pasta for this dish. Ancient Harvest Quinoa pasta has become my husband's and my favorite pasta, and we use it for most of our pasta recipes.) You can see the American chop suey in the photo at the top of this post, and you should visit Mary's blog and make some! Thanks, Mary.


As I've been mentioning lately, we've had a bit of company, and our last guest, my brother, left Monday morning. On Sunday evening our son and d-i-l hosted a dinner for the family, and prepared some wonderful food.

Our d-i-l made Jamaican red bean stew (from Robin Robertson's "Quick Fix Vegetarian") in the slow cooker she found at our last Goodwill excursion. It was really great — spicy, fragrant and filling.

Our son made his excellent version of long beans and tofu. And I brought a salad. I hadn't actually planned to post a recipe so I didn't measure anything, but the salad turned out so well I wanted to share it. It was both beautiful and delicious, and I've reconstructed it as best I can, estimating when I didn't know exact amounts. It's the kind of recipe where a little more or less of one ingredient or another won't make or break the dish — lots of room for improvisation and customizing to your taste!

Tangy carrot and cabbage salad serves 10
  • 3 to 4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1/2 small purple cabbage, core removed, finely shredded
  • 2 to 3 green onions, cut fine
  • 1/2 to 1 small cucumber, sliced into thin spears (opt. but refreshing)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 5 to 8 ounces mixed baby salad greens
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar (to taste)
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons agave syrup or other sweetener (to taste)
  • fresh ground black pepper and salt (if needed)
  1. One to two hours ahead, prepare the carrots, cabbage, onions and cucumbers. (The cabbage should be halved lengthwise, leaving you with two identical halves. You will only need one half.) Place the carrots, cabbage, green onions, cranberries and cucumbers into a large bowl and combine.
  2. Make a dressing from the oil, lemon juice and zest, mustard, vinegar and agave. Mix until smooth, then mix the dressing into the vegetables. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.
  3. Just before serving, add a few grinds of black pepper to the slaw mix and stir in. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
  4. Add the fresh salad greens to the bowl and carefully but thoroughly mix the salad together.


  1. Never heard of American chop suey, but it actually sounds delish! I'm going to go chekc out that recipe. And your salad looks lovely--I've got a cabbage in the fridge and was wondering how I'd use it without repeating an existing recipe--thanks! (And thanks for the anniversary wishes, too--I'm hoping 13 IS lucky, both for the HH and me and for the trip to The Ellen Show!) ;)

  2. Wow, thanks for all the great ideas and pics of delicious food! I've never had American Chop Suey, but I will definitely be trying some soon.

    Your salad looks really colorful, healthy and tasty...it must be a taste sensation with the crunchiness of the veggies and the sweet/tart character of the cranberries.

  3. I haven't heard of American chop suey before, it looks and sounds a bit like the homemade spaghetti my Dad would make (but with meat). The long beans and tofu looks yummy! :-)

  4. Those gorgeous colors! Everything looks so perfect, the cool crunchiness of the veggies and the lip puckering sweetness of the cranberries, what a perfect combination! You know, here in KSA it is already in the 90s everyday and this looks like the perfect light lunch to beat off this heat. Thanks!

  5. At home I never had much pasta, no pizza, no rice. My mother didn't like those foods and probably had no idea how to cook them. But (I already told Mary) that chop suey looks similar to a dish my grand mother and my mother made.
    That salad is calling my name. Now that spring arrived I have huge cravings for fresh and colourful leaves and vegetables.

  6. I've never seen American chop suey, but your version looks like real comfort food, as does that stew!

  7. Ricki,
    I haven't heard of American chop suey since I was a child — I honestly thought it was my father's invention! Duh. Hope you hear from Ellen soon.

    You're welcome. I still have the other cabbage half in the fridge so I think I'll whip up another salad tonight. I have some arugula that might be a good addition.

    Chow vegan,
    Maybe there's a secret society of dad-cooks. :)

    90s? I can't even imagine, though it actually sounds good to me at the moment. (Unless it includes humidity!) Cool, overcast dampness starts to get to me after a while, and I long for some warm sunshine.

    Later in life, my parents really changed their diet, and started including more grains, beans and fresh veggies. Whenever we went to visit there was always a large pot of chickpeas on the stove to welcome us!

    I just bought a box of small pasta so I could make this again in a more traditional form. It was so delicious and satisfying — just the way true comfort food is supposed to be. I think it will become a staple at our house.

  8. That salad looks beautiful AND delicious--yum! So many posts to catch up on (things got crazy there for a while for me...)--lucky me :-)


  9. You always have the best meals when your son is home! Thanks for the salad recipe. I love a beautiful salad.

    My mom was a big fan of canned veggies too!

  10. Courtney,
    Thanks! I hope you get a little bit of calmness in your life.

    We always feel lucky when our sons or d-i-l cook for us.

  11. What interesting family stories you have. I can relate to the "not filling up" on rice and the cousin's hand-me-downs. My cousin wore very trendy clothes though, so I was always happy to see her wear something new and pretty, because I knew that it would be mine as soon as she got tired of wearing it! :D

    The American chop suey looks delicious and very comforting! Your son's dish is making my tofu-deprived self cry! :D

  12. I'm so glad you were reconnected with American chop suey! I liked reading your family story. My mom used to make it once a week or so, because she had three kids under five, no time to cook, and no money to buy groceries. It's cheap and filling! She recently told me that she had to make it without vegetables, because we wouldn't it it otherwise. I'm ashamed!

    Your son really has a talent with tofu! I saw the picture and thought for sure you had that dish at a restaurant.

  13. River,
    My cousins were from NYC and wore trendy clothes, too. I loved those cartons in the basement.

    My son's tofu dish was AMAZING. I wish you could try it. And by the way, I've tried the black onion seeds, and they are great.

    Your mom probably had a much better attitude than my mom.

    We had American Chop Suey again, with cauliflower. And I jazzed the leftovers up with miso and tahini.

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