A Mediocre Stir Fry and Why Do I Suck at Chinese Cooking?

>> Friday, March 4, 2011

stir fried; stir fry; vegetables; vegetable; noodles; egg noodles; broccoli; carrots; green pepper; mushrooms; onion; white plate; wood; tea; gree tea; recipe; easy; fast; healthy; soy sauce; Chinese; fast food; chopsticks
Hi everyone, sorry I have been MIA this past week. We had new windows installed on Monday and it turned into a longer project than originally thought. We've been preparing, waiting and cleaning up the huge mess since Sunday. As you can see I was left with no extra time to answer emails, share any recipes nor visit your blogs. I am beat! But as soon as I can gather some energy I'll be playing catchup. I leave you with something I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

Every time I try to cook anything Chinese I fail, miserably. I don't know what the deal is with me and Chinese food. I mean I do like Chinese food, so it's not like I'm just cooking it and not really caring about the outcome. By no means am I an expert or know a whole lot about it, so I try to read and look up very basic dishes. I don't ever attempt the more complicated sounding dishes. I stick to more common dishes known to us in the West like easy stir fries, fried rice or hot and spicy pork threads. Besides not succeeding with the cooking, European Chinese food gives me the worst heartburn. I say European Chinese because when I lived in the US the Chinese food there never gave me heartburn, it tasted fantastic. I do have to admit that ever since we have lived in Europe for the most part the Chinese food here has left me disappointed and unimpressed. I've eaten Chinese food in France, Germany, Austria and Czech Republic and all of the food was from Chinese restaurants run by Chinese people, so it's not a matter that the food is not being prepared by people that don't understand the cuisine. The only thing that I can conclude is that Chinese food has been "toned down" to fit Europe palates. I can only conclude that because I can see how Mexican food has completely been toned down and even strip of its authenticity. Where in North America Chinese and many other immigrant groups have been a part of society and so has their cuisine, in some parts of Europe it seems like they are a bit behind on the amount and quality of ethnic foods. My husband and I agree that out of all the places we have traveled to in Europe, Paris was the best place in Europe for good ethnic foods. (I'll have to tell you about that another time though.)

stir fried; stir fry; vegetables; vegetable; noodles; egg noodles; broccoli; carrots; green pepper; mushrooms; onion; white plate; wood; tea; gree tea; recipe; easy; fast; healthy; soy sauce; Chinese; fast food; chopsticks
I would say that 99% of the time a Chinese food craving hits us we go to one of our local Chinese restaurants, I try to not put my husband through the unsatisfied misery of having to eat my failed attempts. The Chinese restaurant we frequent most often has decent fried noodles and fried rice, so that's what I stick to. I'm not 100% thrilled with either though, because they are really greasy. I will have to admit that if it's a takeout night, I only order the chicken fried rice or noodles so I can pick out the chicken and give it to Panchito. I hate the texture and taste of the chicken, it tastes and smells boiled and I can't stand the taste or smell of bland boiled chicken (shuddering). Panchito loves it and when we say we'll bring him back some "Chinese chicken" he knows what he has coming and jumps with excitement, this Dog is crazy! So as we sit down to our Chinese take-out, I sit with my obligatory pack of antacids. Nope, the taste of antacids doesn't help the greasy noodles taste one bit better. Ok it's kinda gross, but it's either that or be belching and feeling horrible the rest of the night. Geesh!, I sound like an 80 year old woman and I'm only 31!

Ingredients: (serves 2)
1 broccoli stalk (about 10.5 oz or 300 grams)
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large green bell pepper, sliced in strips
7 oz. or 200 grams button mushrooms, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tbsp. light soy sauce
1/3 cup or 100 ml vegetable or chicken broth
1-2 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil

To serve:
egg noodles, boiled and drained or steamed rice

**TIP** In the comments below Belinda suggested "Get that wok HOT HOT HOT and it really helps!"
1. Cut the flowerets from the broccoli stalk, set aside. Heat the oil in a wok or large pan. Once warm fry the onion until soft then add the garlic and fry for 2 minutes. Add the carrot slices and fry for about 3 minutes, then add the pepper strips and fry for another 3 minutes. Next add the mushrooms mix well and fry for 5 minutes, then add the soy sauce (and any other spice you like) and mix all ingredients well. Pour the broth into the wok/pan and stir until well incorporated. Place the broccoli flowerets over the vegetables, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and allow most of the the remaining broth to cook off.

If serving over egg noodles, add the noodels to the pan/wok and fry for a few minutes. If serving with steamed rice mix the vegetables with the rice or serve over the rice.
stir fried; stir fry; vegetables; vegetable; noodles; egg noodles; broccoli; carrots; green pepper; mushrooms; onion; white plate; wood; tea; gree tea; recipe; easy; fast; healthy; soy sauce; Chinese; fast food; chopsticks
Well, incase I haven't grossed you out enough yet perhaps you'd like to try my mediocre vegetable stir fry? That should finish the job for sure! Come on you know you want to try my goodness... I'll let you in on a little inside joke in my house. My husband came up with a sarcastic way of referring to my failed recipes or rather unpalatable dishes I put in front of him as "Goodness!". (I know many of you use that word, and when I see it I have to giggle even though I know you mean that the dish is delicious.) I appreciate and love his honesty. Well at least my hubby still eats what I put in front of him and doesn't send it flying out of his mouth like Panchito. He is a very good husband and for that I make it up to him by making one of his favorite dishes as payment for eating the "Goodness", haha.

If you want a real expert, and good authentic Chinese recipes please visit Liv at , Egg Wan's Eastern Food Odyssey. I for one need to spend more time learning from her blog so I can stop sucking at Chinese cooking.


Paaka Shaale March 4, 2011 at 7:54 AM  

WOW nanvy, Looking at those noodles I can't believe you suck in Chinese food. The noodles and the vegetables look perfect. just awesome :)

Frank March 4, 2011 at 7:57 AM  

I feel your pain! I absolutely adore Chinese food--it is my favorite after Italian--and eat it several times a week. I've attempted it at home but it is indeed very hard to get right. After doing a fair amount of reading up and practicing, I think that I've gotten decent at it, but the whole rythmn of Chinese cooking is so different from what we're used to... And you need the right sort of equipment and ingredients. So I enjoy it when dining out.

By the way, thanks for the tip to Eastern Food Odyssey! I am always on the prowl for good Chinese cooking blogs and they can be hard to find in English!

Belinda @zomppa March 4, 2011 at 7:57 AM  

It doesn't look mediocre at all! Looks wonderful! I guess even in the U.S., it depends on where you go. The UK has some amazing Chinese food.... Get that wok HOT HOT HOT and it really helps!

Spicie Foodie March 4, 2011 at 8:10 AM  

@Paaka, Thank you, hehe you misspelled my name:)

@Frank, I think you are right about the rhythm being different. Good for you that you have gotten good at it. You'll love Liv's blog, her recipe always look and sound amazing.

@Belinda, You are too sweet:) That is true, even in the US I had some pretty bad Chinese food. Thanks for the tip, I'm going to add it to the post.

Torviewtoronto March 4, 2011 at 8:10 AM  

looks delicious i like adding oyster sauce in noodles

Carolyn March 4, 2011 at 8:16 AM  

Sorry you haven't found a good way to make it at home. I use a very simple sauce from Mark Bittman that I can adapt a little depending on my mood. It's not really *authentic* but it tastes pretty good every time, so I am pleased with it.

FOODalogue March 4, 2011 at 8:49 AM  

I love to cook Asian food at home. I think you need to increase your oriental pantry with items like: mirin, miso, rice vinegar, sesame oil. A splash/dash will do wonders. Scallions would have worked better than yellow onions and fresh cilantro on top adds another level of flavor. Hope this helps.

Our Eyes Eat First March 4, 2011 at 9:28 AM  

Must admit that I feel the same way when it comes to Indian food as well. Practice makes perfect!

Sandra March 4, 2011 at 9:34 AM  

I think that your stir fry today look really good and tasty with all the combo! I love Chinese food too, and making it the best I can for our palates. I think it taste so much better than grease and heavy on stomach take outs. However I never deep fry or fry in that matter anything when I make Chinese, just a bit of oil(1/2 tsp.) and combining it with lot of veggies, b/c when I think Chinese in my mind comes healthy..look at them they are so beautiful and skinny:))

Roxan March 4, 2011 at 10:56 AM  

Nancy you're such a nerd, this stir fry looks great! I have no doubt that it tasted just as delicious :)
I hope you have a wonderful weekend, filled with delicious food!

Anonymous,  March 4, 2011 at 12:07 PM  

I totally understand! Chinese food or stir fried foods elude me. I can never seem to get the seasoning right. It's either bland or too much. I hope the window project has finished well :p

Claudia March 4, 2011 at 1:25 PM  

Well did the windows last summer and none of my dinners were grand during that stress period. Sometimes I think the foods we do best are the ones we have an intrinsic feel for - where we really don't need a recipe? And you know - you are too hard on yourself. I'd have your stir fry.

Susan March 4, 2011 at 2:01 PM  

Oh! I hope you don't give up on making your own Chinese! It's taken me a long time to get things right, but I agree with Brenda. I have told my daughters four things when it comes to making good Chinese - 'hot wok, cold oil' and your food won't stick, have everything prepped and in bowls before you even think about heating the wok, be fast when beginning with the aromatics so they don't get singed, and keep in mind that the first things you add to the stir-fry continue to cook if they remain while you add more ... nothing's worse than overdone and khacki veggies, right? I hope this helps! Keep at it! It's so satisfying when you get it right!

Celia March 4, 2011 at 2:48 PM  

Looks like you have good stir fry basics. One tip: adding a little corn starch to the soy sauce helps it really cling to everything. Luck on future Chinese cooking endeavors!

Cardamom Hills March 4, 2011 at 3:49 PM  

Lol Nancy....I grieve about my baking skill just like you do about your chinese...but then half the time chinese food we get in other parts of the world are nothing like the real food in their country....my dad visits china so often and he tells me they have such little oil in their food and even basic flavours are so strong despite the fact that they dont use a lot of spices...but their specialty sauces and authentic food stuff are so tough to get in the local markets!!

veggietestkitchen March 4, 2011 at 4:25 PM  

I think the key with chinese food is to add as much flavor as possible. I didn't see salt on your recipe list, also no hot sauce. Chinese food has lots of sodium in it i.e. salt, soy sauce, more salt, more soy sauce. hot sauce is imperative. You can try adding oyster sauce also. And maybe even grate some ginger into your garlic mix early on. Another thing I would say is that since most of us don't have authentic woks at home we'll never get our chinese dishes to taste exactly as they would in the reataurant. good luck! (also, add the broccoli at the very end so it doesn't lose it's color, it looks a bit faded in your picture).cheers!

Pegasuslegend March 4, 2011 at 5:59 PM  

A absolutely stunning shot with such a healthy meal lovely!

scrambledhenfruit March 4, 2011 at 6:59 PM  

I'm not so great at it either, so I go out for Chinese food. :) I'm sure it's not as bad as you think it is though- it looks yummy. :)

Tastemonials March 4, 2011 at 11:59 PM  

I took a class in in basic Chinese cooking techniques when I first moved to CA which really helped. I know how to do it, but it is so time consuming to do it right, I rarely ever cook Chinese.

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines March 5, 2011 at 1:24 AM  

These are all great tips everyone has given you. Don't fret, you can get stuff here that will give you heartburn too. I started playing around with making at home, so I could make it a little lighter, I'd still love to learn more. Hope you have a great weekend.

Dimah March 5, 2011 at 3:40 PM  

Nice recipe...looks sooo good!!

A little bit of everything March 5, 2011 at 10:54 PM  

my hubby loves fried rice and I tried it so many times I lost count and never turns out like the restaurant one :( I gave up making Chinese at home.
your stir fry looks amazing, so sorry to hear it didn't turned out as you'd like.
have a wonderful Sunday, Nancy

heidi March 5, 2011 at 11:48 PM  

hola! oye, no será que lo que te hace daño en la comida china es el MSG (glutamato monosódico) mucha gente es alérgica a éste producto que se usa en la cocina china como substituto de la sal. Y que yo sepa, en USA su uso está mucho más restringido.

A mí, acá en China, cuando como comida china en la calle y tiene MSG me dan migrañas y retención de líquidos que parezco pez globo!...

anyway, mejor cocinarlo en casita no?

She's Cookin' March 6, 2011 at 1:52 PM  

It's tough to find good Chinese food - even here (U.S.) unless you're in a major city's Chinatown. I smiled when I saw this on FB - sorry it's taken me a while to get over here; don't be so hard on yourself - for many of us, Indian food is our nemesis! And yes, do as Belinda says - get that wok or fry pan really HOT! And if its a little bland - add chili sauce; at least that's better than greasy takeout :)

kita March 6, 2011 at 5:01 PM  

Im sorry your Chinese never turns out but I hope the new windows make up for it! (even though the project took a while - but it always makes me happy when new renovations are done).

Anna's Table March 6, 2011 at 6:51 PM  

The dish looks delicious. I like to add fresh ginger and a touch of sesame oil for extra flavour in my stir fry.

penny aka jeroxie March 7, 2011 at 1:52 AM  

Wok has to be hot and also we use a lot of condiments, garlic, onions. it must have the 3 tastes - sweet, sour and acid. :)

Magic of Spice March 7, 2011 at 12:11 PM  

You are so funny...I am picturing Panchito spitting food across the room, lol. It looks pretty good to me, I also have a hard time with Chinese and I think it is almost impossible to get authentic versions most places. Maybe we can talk Liv into shipping us some :)

Spicie Foodie March 8, 2011 at 6:40 PM  

You guys are awesome! Thank you for all of the great tips, I will keep them in mind next time.

@Roxan, LOL I love your comment, it made me laugh:)

Conor @ Hold the Beef March 10, 2011 at 10:43 PM  

Hehe, it looks pretty good for a mediocre dish. What a harrowing journey it has been for you though, down this quest for Chinese food! Perhaps you can look for an authentic Chinese cooking class, where you can ask lots of questions and try and create some non-heartburny dishes?

Anonymous,  April 1, 2011 at 12:53 PM  

I've traveled to and lived in Asia for a bit, and let me assure you, North American (and European) Chinese isn't REAL Chinese food. :) Don't get me wrong, I'll love chicken balls forever, but they, along with other staples such as egg rolls and chop suey, don't exist in China.

My one fail-safe recipe? Get together your meat and veggies. Cook the meat until it's nearly done, then add the veggies. When your veggies are nearly complete, add 2 tbsp of soy sauce, 2 tbsp of oyster sauce, and 1 tbsp (or less) or sugar. Mix it together and presto, you have a terrific Asian sauce.

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