Monday, November 16, 2009

Vegetable Lo Mein: A Recipe or Two

Today on Serious Eats: Tomatillo Guacamole. You will want to eat it. Frequently, even.

A few months ago, some bad chicken lo mein taught me everything I ever wanted to know about food poisoning (but was too preoccupied with vomiting to ask). In ten years of professional employment, I’d never called out sick two days in a row. Four days of shivering, fever, and non-stop bathroom trips later, my streak was vanquished, as was my will to live. In retrospect, it was like receiving a continuous gastrointestinal wedgie from God.

Color me paranoid, but since then I’ve been a tad gun-shy about ordering takeout, especially from our local Chinese joints. With exceptions like the Halaal place down the block, they tend to be somewhat less than sanitary. And by “somewhat less than sanitary,” I mean “Oscar the Grouch would find this hellish and oppressive.” Granted, I imagine I wouldn’t want to lick the floor of most restaurant kitchens. But I also can’t see them when I’m ordering, so the illusion is preserved.

Making Chinese food at home has been a good time, though. I’m learning a lot about cabbage and oyster sauce, and have received frequent noodle injections, vital to the happiness of a blogger’s mouth hole. In fact, today’s dish is of the noodle persuasion, and comes from the greatest everyday cookbook there ever was, Cook’s Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipe.

I’ve used Best 30-Minute time and again on CHG, and it. Has. Never. Failed. Me. If it was a person, I’d make it cake. If it was a President, I’d solve its budget crisis. If it was Big Bird, I’d cooperate with it until it puked.

Anyway, their prescription for Vegetable Lo Mein was delightful, not least because I tried it two ways:

1) Almost exactly as written. CI’s original recipe asks for fresh Chinese egg noodles and 10 ounces of shiitake mushrooms. As shiitakes are dang pricey, I subbed half of them out for regular button mushrooms. The total cost still came to $11 or so, but the results were indisputably good. Earthy, salty, and starchy, it sated every craving I’ve ever had, or ever will have. Pregnancy? I’m ready for you now. (Um … after the wedding of course, Ma.)

2) With cost-cutting tweaks. Alas, $11 is not cheap for a starch-n-veggie dish. So, the second time around, fresh noodles were swapped out for thin spaghetti, and the shiitakes were replaced entirely with button mushrooms. I won’t front – the more expensive version was superior. Still, this was definitely tasty, and at $5 less than dish #1, will be the recipe going into rotation.

One drawback - the recipe isn’t vegetarian. However, it can be made so by substituting veggie broth for chicken broth and vegetarian oyster sauce for the regular stuff. So go crazy, my sweet vegans/veg heads.

In sum, I don’t know if I’ll ever order takeout lo mein again. And not just because last time, it made me violently, violently ill. (Number of barf mentions in this post about food and cooking: three. A new record!)


If you like this recipe, you might also like:

Vegetable Lo Mein
Serves 3
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipes.
Print this recipe

8 ounces thin spaghetti
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 small head Napa (Chinese) cabbage, sliced crosswise into 1/4-ribbons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or veggie)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce (or vegetarian oyster sauce)
4 scallions

1) Boil spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking process. Pour cooled spaghetti back into saucepan, add sesame oil, and stir to coat. Set aside.

2) Heat vegetable oil over high in a large, nonstick skillet. Add mushrooms and saute 4 or 5 minutes, until they are browned and have released their water. Add bell pepper and cabbage, and saute another 3 or 4 minutes, until cabbage is mostly wilted. Clear a spot in the middle of the pan, add garlic and ginger, and sauté for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add broth, soy sauce, and oyster sauce to mixture, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer, then kill the heat.

3) Pour cold spaghetti into skillet. Mix thoroughly to warm. Add scallions and serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
471 calories, 11.3 g fat, 10.5 g fiber, $2.00

8 ounces thin spaghetti: 810 calories, 4.1 g fat, 8.1 g fiber, $0.33
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil: 120 calories, 13.6 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.18
1 tablespoon vegetable oil: 124 calories, 14 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.09
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced: 50 calories, 0.7 g fat, 2.3 g fiber, $0.99
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips: 43 calories, 0.5 g fat, 3.4 g fiber, $1.02
1 small head Napa (Chinese) cabbage: 171 calories, 0.7 g fat, 14.3 g fiber, $1.48
2 cloves garlic, minced: 8 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.09
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger: 5 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.08
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth: 4 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.09
3 tablespoons soy sauce: 25 calories, 0 g fat, 0.4 g fiber, $0.30
3 tablespoons oyster sauce: 28 calories, 0.2 g fat, 0.2 fiber, $0.90
4 scallions: 32 calories, 0.2 g fat, 2.6 g fiber, $0.44
TOTAL: 1412 calories, 34 g fat, 31.5 g fiber, $5.99
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 471 calories, 11.3 g fat, 10.5 g fiber, $2.00

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Elizabeth said...

Two things:

I absolutely love CI, but I haven't checked out the Best Light Recipe yet. Have you tried anything out of it yet, or is it something along the lines of, "Hey, we took this dish from 20 grams of fat per serving to 15! It's so healthy now! Aren't you proud?". There's nothing as disappointing as getting excited about a new version of a dish only to find it's isn't all that healthy or tastes like caca to reach a healthy state.

Also, have you considered dried shiitakes? A good bit cheaper, and you can use the broth formed while hydrating the shrooms in place of the chicken broth.

Kris said...

Elizabeth, I have Best Light Recipe, and it seems to be about half and half. 50% are straight-up low-fat recipes, and 50% makeover classic dishes into slightly healthier ones. I like what I've tried so far, though.

I did consider dried shiitakes, and would definitely suggest trying them if they're around. I had a bunch of button mushrooms I had to use or lose, which is how this came about.

Vegan said...

Best book and best information.

Becky said...

Didn't know there was such a thing as vegetarian oyster sauce-- I may have to look into that. (Not a vegetarian, but I'm not a fan of seafood either, so if it doesn't really taste like oysters I'd probably like that better!)

bashtree said...

So sorry to hear you were so vomitously ill! This recipe sounds like just the ticket, though. Thanks for sharing!!

Jillian said...

So good! I used whole wheat spaghetti, crimini mushrooms, and added a 1/2 cup of some thinly sliced and chopped leftover turkey breast during the last step. Gosh turkey, will you never cease?

Nelle said...

Thank you for this recipe - just made this and really enjoyed it! I'm vegetarian so I used 'mushroom sauce' (found in the same aisle as oyster sauce) and it was delicious. Great new way to use mushrooms.

Courtney DownUnder said...

Just made this recipe and couldn't believe how awesome it was! I tasted just like it does in the restaurant but better! I didn't have any ginger though so I just let it out.