Retro Dining–Chop Suey

Chop suey served over riceI previously posted a recipe for Chicken Chop Suey that included an assortment of fresh vegetables, but today’s recipe is a little bit different.  It’s a recipe that I got from an older friend.  She says that this is how they made “Chinese food” when her children were growing up.  Neither of us is Chinese, so this recipe is not authentic in any way.  Unless you consider it to be authentic to what home cooks were making in the 1960’s.  My friend told me that she read the recipe in a women’s magazine when her children were little and she tried it out.  Since the children liked it, she would make it for them from time to time.

Her recipe might be considered unhealthy by today’s standards since it calls for regular ground beef, but it does contain some fresh vegetables, and “it was a way to make them some Chinese food at home without buying those expensive cans of chow mein and chop suey from the store. Those were too expensive to buy and feed all my children”  Many of you are probably wondering about the reference to cans of Chinese food.  They still exist, and can be found in most grocery stores as well as on Amazon(As of the date of this post’s publication, I am not an Amazon Affiliate.)

I took home her recipe, and bought some canned bean sprouts. (Imagine me shuddering as I say this.)   I also noticed that there were canned chop suey vegetables that you just needed to drain, heat, mixed with some strips of meat, and season with soy sauce.  I picked up a can of those to try, too.In the middle of the 20th century, many Americans only ate canned bean sprouts

I’ll probably blog about chop suey from canned chop suey vegetables when I get around to using them.

I asked my friend about the canned bean sprouts. Why not use fresh ones?  She told me that back when her children were little, it wasn’t like it is now.  She lived out in the country and they ate a lot of canned vegetables.  Fresh stuff was only eaten in its season.  Most grocery stores in her part of Louisiana didn’t sell fresh bean sprouts.  The only bean sprouts she ever ate back then were the ones that came from a can.

The world she describes is very different from the one where I live.  A trip to my local  Costco found me buying bell peppers grown in Israel and grapes grown in Chile.  While I read these labels, I thought about two things:

1. The world really is getting smaller since my food is from three continents.  It’s amazing that food can travel halfway around the world and arrive fresh at my table.

2.  It’s really scary that my food had to come from three continents.  Why can’t my food come from where I live?

Sorry, I’ve digressed.

The retro style chow mein was surprisingly good.  I forgot to grab my camera while I whipped up dinner and didn’t remember to take photos until all that was left were dirty dishes, so the picture above is from the previous chop suey post.    If I make it again, I will add some new, and hopefully better photos.

Here’s my friend’s recipe.  Give it a try and leave a comment to let us know what you think.  If you want to leave me a picture of your recipe, that’s okay, too.

Thanks for visiting Patty Cake’s Pantry.

Retro Dining--Chop Suey
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Chinese
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 servings
This is an inexpensive retro meal that when served over rice will feed a family of 6.
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced/sliced celery
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can bean sprouts, drained and rinsed.
  • ⅓ cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. Brown ground beef and onion
  2. Add celery, hot water, pepper, and (optional) salt
  3. Cover and cook for 5 minutes
  4. Add bean sprouts and bring to boil.
  5. Mix together cornstarch ⅓ cup cold water, soy sauce, and sugar.
  6. Add to mixture in skillet and stir.
  7. Continue to cook for 5 minutes until thickened.
  8. Serve with or over steamed rice.

5 thoughts on “Retro Dining–Chop Suey

    1. Roger, I agree. Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to make something “Asian” without having to search for exotic ingredients. Sometimes, local stores still don’t have everything you need to make a more authentic Asian inspired dish.

  1. In the 1960s, my grandmother made us “hamburger chop suey,” from time to time. I loved it and always thought it was a mysterious recipe, forever gone with her time. Because she was an excellent cook, it never occurred to me that she might be making what would’ve been a “trendy” dish, from an actual recipe, at least to start with. Haha!

    I’m going to make it soon, as I ran into some sliced (yes, canned!) water chestnuts the other day. These are the ingredients I remember now:
    Ground beef, sautéed with onion and garlic
    Chopped fresh celery
    Button mushrooms (yes, those were definitely canned)
    Canned bamboo shoots
    Canned bean sprouts (I think I’ll just get=those fresh, now, thanks!)
    Thickening agent (probably corn starch)
    Soy sauce to taste

    Thanks for the back-up information!

    1. Jane, I’m glad that this recipe brought back memories for you. I’m going to have to try your version (or I guess it’s your grandmother’s version). I often use fresh bean sprouts when I cook. Just remember, you’re supposed to blanch fresh bean sprouts in boiling water for one minute before using them (at least that’s what’s written on the back of the packages I buy).

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