Kitchen Tips: Spicing Up Chinese Takeout

Hey everyone. I thought I’d share some food tips for jazzing up bland Chinese takeout and making Asian-style meals at home. I was inspired to write this because the other night I came home from school around 8:00pm and didn’t feel like cooking- it was just too long of a day. I saw some leftover shrimp lo mein in the fridge that we got from a local Chinese restaurant the other night, but it really lacked flavor. I thought about ways to make it better, so it was actually enjoyable to eat, then the lightbulb went off in my head. I raided my kitchen for the following ingredients:

-A few tablespoons of freshly grated ginger
-A few tablespoons of hoisin sauce
-A dash of rice wine vinegar
Chili garlic sauce, added to taste
-A few fresh mushrooms, sliced
-A handful of frozen long green beans, broken in half

Since I was kind of in a rush, all of those ingredients were just put into a skillet with the leftover lo mein and a little oil and cooked until heated through. Unfortunately, the noodles kind of got a little sticky because – again – I was in a rush and just threw them in there right from the cold container. I should have waited for them to warm up to room temperature a bit so they’d be easier to get out of the container. Oops.

For the next time, I would mix up the first four ingredients to make the sauce while letting the mushrooms and green beans saute; a smashed and minced garlic clove added to the saute would be good, too, because I like garlicky food. After a few minutes, I’d add the leftover lo mein and the sauce and cook until heated through. I bet this could also be done in a microwave by putting all of the ingredients into a microwavable container, covering the container with a loose fitting lid or plastic wrap, and cooking for a few minutes until the mushrooms are tender and everything is heated through.

Regardless of cooking method, with a few additional ingredients that I had in my refrigerator, leftover lo mein can be transformed into something much tastier. The sauce I made to add to the leftover lo mein could also be used when making a homemade lo mein dish. Just make a little more of it, add it to cooked lo mein noodles (also sold dried in the ethnic foods section, or substitute linguine or spaghetti if they are easier to find) along with some veggies and a protein. I generally use the frozen vegetable medleys, like the sugar snap pea veggie medley that Birds Eye makes, and vegetarian meat, like Morningstar chicken strips, or tofu.

Now, I’ll make some comments about the ingredients because I know for some people they might not be common pantry items. Asian ingredients are pretty easy to find in the supermarket now, as most supermarkets have ethnic/international foods sections, and they are good to have on hand for making sauces, marinades, and quick homemade Asian-style meals that are much healthier than takeout.

Ginger is sold fresh in the produce section, but can also be available in other forms, like candied or dried whole (they look like little pieces of coral or hands). Dried ginger could be substituted for the fresh in this recipe, but you don’t have to make that substitution if you do what I do: buy a hand of ginger, use what you need, and then stash it in a zip-top bag in the freezer. It’s easy to take the ginger out of the freezer when you need it, grate some off with a Microplane, and stash it again. Ginger is also good for making a quick tea: peel the thin skin off using a spoon or knife, slice off a 1in “knob”, throw it into a hot cup of water, add another herb (if desired), and sweeten to taste (if desired). Ginger tea is good for making upset tummies feel better. :smile:

Rice wine vinegar is less acidic than other vinegars that you might be familiar with and neutral tasting. Because of this, it can be used to cut the tastes of stronger vinegars in salad dressings and pickling recipes. In a pinch, lime juice could be used a good substitution in the sauce I made above.

Hoisin sauce tastes kind of like BBQ sauce in the sense that it has those sweet and spicy notes, but it has different spices in it that sort of change the flavor profile so it’s a different kind of sweet and spicy. It’s hard to explain, so just try it. :grin:

Chili garlic sauce looks and tastes exactly what it sounds like, but it is SPICY, so be careful how much you use if you are sensitive to spice. I generally get the kind where you can see the seeds of the chilis and pieces of garlic. There is also Sirracha, which is essentially the same stuff, but it is smoother without those visible seeds and pieces of garlic.

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