Wednesday 27 April 2011

Chow Mein - revisited on ANZAC Day

This year Easter and ANZAC Day were bundled in together.  ANZAC Day was on Easter Monday so the holiday was on Tuesday.  We stayed at my parents so I went with some of my family to the ANZAC Day dawn service at Torquay. We rose at 4am and drove through the deserted streets to the Torquay football ground to take a bus to Point Danger where the flags flew in the moonlight.  It was dark, cold and I should have been sleeping. 

Instead I was remembering those who served in wars throughout Australia's history.  Above is a picture of the Shrine of Remembrance, built in 1934 in Melbourne.  I didn't go there on ANZAC Day but couldn't resist a pic when I passed it on the way to meet my friend Alison at the Botanic Gardens yesterday.  I have attended a dawn service there many years ago and it was stirring stuff. 
It is an amazing phenomenon, the huge growth in popularity of these services and it is pleasing that so many of the younger generations are joining in.  Yet at this year's service I felt older, tireder and more cynical.  I wish there was more learning and less glorification.  Having said this, it was an uplifting way to start the day, to watch the sky lighten as we sang hymns and listened to reflections.  After the service we watched the sunrise over the sea and looked at the memorial wreaths.
We returned to my mum and dad's to join the sleepers for a breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes and hash browns.  Then E, Sylvia and I went to the Geelong Botanic Gardens to visit the kids play space and wander through the gardens.  E wanted to see flowers.  Sylvia wanted a swing.  I wanted an outing.  We were all happy, though unfortunately the mozzies wanted our blood.

On the way home I was so tired I fell asleep in the car.  (Don't worry - E was driving!)  When I woke E asked what was for dinner.  I considered it in that twilight state between sleep and waking.  While at my folks' place I had been browsing old cookbooks.  I had come across a recipe for Chow Mein that was similar to the one that my mum made for me as a child.

If you are interested to know the name of the cookbook, it is called Recipes and there is no author or date, though the pictures date it to the 1970s and there is a thanks to the Christian Family Movement.  (No modern cookbook would have a sweet slice called Tobacco!)

This reminded me of the version I used to make when living in student households.  Here are my scrappy notes, which I knew I would need one day to remind me what I did!  Ah, this is what we did before blogs were invented!  I wanted to use up the rest of my buckwheat nut roast and the main vegetables I had were cabbage and green beans.  Not the most inspiring vegies for a side dish but they were exactly what I needed for chow mein.

I set about finding any other vegetables in the house.  It all added up to an excellent chow mein.  Now I must make my disclaimer here.  This dish is not about serving authentic Chinese food.  It is about capturing memories of the food I grew up eating.  I thought it a good post to have for ANZAC Day because it evokes old Australian recipes that are nothing like the real thing but became part of who we were.

What I loved about the chow mein that my mum made was the saltiness of the chicken noodle soup mix and the starchiness of the rice and noodles.  So I made it in the manner of a risotto, letting a cup or two of stock being absorbed at a time, though I am sure you could put all the liquid in at once.  Actually I think I just wasn't sure how much liquid I needed.  I had finally made more freezer stock last week, so I had plenty of the home made stuff to use.  My tamari ran out or I might have used a bit more.  In the past I have used stock powder, which is more like soup mix, though these days I prefer to avoid MSG.

The chow mein was fantastic.  In the past I have made it with tempeh but the nut roast really did feel more like the mince meat my mum put in it.  The dish was soft and melting.  Not a dish for al dente vegetables, though I did keep my beans a nice green colour.  But it could be worse.  E tells me his dad just added hot water to make his Vesta chow mein in the 1970s.  I like to think mine was more the sort of thing to be eaten by the characters of Paper Giants: the birth of Cleo, an Australian tv show set in the 1970s.  It was just what we needed after lots of chocolate and desserts of Easter.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe
This time last year: PPN Mee Goreng
This time three years ago: Toothpicks, Tacos, and Oaxaca

Chow Mein
inspired by my mum
serves 4-6

2 tsp canola oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp tamari*
1 leek, washed and thinly sliced
1/4 drum cabbage, thinly sliced
1-2 carrots, diced
1/4 green capsicum, diced
1 red capsicum, diced
3 largish button mushrooms, diced
1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 clove garlic, crushed
about 4 1/2 cups of stock*
1/2 cup uncooked rice
80g uncooked spaghetti - broken into bits
375g green beans, trimmed, cut small
1/2 a quantity of buckwheat nut roast*

* The seasoning in the tamari, stock and nut roast can also be adjusted depending on what is available.  In the past I have used tempeh, stock powder, water and soy sauce.  If I were to use tempeh instead of nut roast I would add it earlier so it soaked up more flavour.

Heat oils and tamari in an extra large frypan or a stockpot.  (I don't usually heat tamari with the oil but I mistook it for sesame oil and it worked ok.)  Fry leek, cabbage, carrots, capsicums, mushrooms, ginger and garlic for about 10 minutes until they start to soften (I throw them in the pan as I chop them.)

Add rice, spaghetti and a cup or two of stock.  Bring to the boil and briskly simmer until water is mostly absorbed and add another cup or two.  Keep cooking for about 30-40 minutes until most stock is absorbed and the rice and spaghetti is cooked.

While the stew is simmering, cook the green beans for about 3 minutes in boiling water until just soft.  Drain and set aside.  Crumble the nut roast and heat in the microwave.

When the rice and spaghetti is cooked, stir in the green beans and nut roast.  Serve hot.

On the Stereo:
Set List: The Frames


  1. Ok so I am pretty sure that is the EXACT chow mein my mum used to make for us when we were growing up. I used to love having it for lunch the next day, served on toast with a drizzle of soy sauce!

    Ps - I made my first nut roast! Check it out :)

  2. Johanna! Chow mein the Aussie style! yay for it. When I first came to Australia as a teenager, I lived in a homestay and my host "mother" would make this all the time.

  3. Your photos are gorgeous! I have never ventured to a dawn service. Love your chow mein, and had a giggle at the drawing of the hirsute 70s dad.

  4. Time honoured recipe if I read your cookbook correctly, June 1989 :)

  5. "Recipes". I like it - straight and to-the-point ;) I haven't been to a dawn service in many, many years, though I can still remember the pain and subsequent numbness in my feet as a result of the freezing cold...

  6. Hehe look at that drawing! And that's what men all looked like then isn't it! I remember wondering why my dad didn't have a moustache :P

  7. Sounds great! I must be one of the only Aussies around that was never served chow mein as a child. Have never been to the dawn service but I have attended the march for several years.

  8. What a fun celebration of ANZAC day! I love this old cookbook...probably has some real gems hidden within it! The chow mein sounds absolutely delicious!

  9. Thanks Lisa - love your nut roast and love the sound of leftover chow mien on toast - so many yummy carbs!

    Thanks Anh - I wonder if you were served it because it was what your home stay mother usually made or did she think it would make you feel at home?

    Thanks Cakelaw - it is worth going once to a dawn service but am not sure I could go every year - yes the dad is hilarious isn't he!

    Thanks chopin and my saucepan - my recipe notebook is an old unused diary that I found from 1989 - the recipe evolved a lot later

    Thanks Hannah - it wasn't too cold this year but my niece quin had been other years and was well wrapped up and making sure my younger niece maddy was well wrapped too

    Thanks Lorraine - my dad didn't have a mo either so I thought men with moustaches looked funny or were trendy young things

    Thanks Mel - have never been to the march - hope you have made up for your lack of chow mein since your childhood - I loved it

    Thanks Joanne - it was a good day - easter and ANZAC Day together made a 5 days weekend so it seemed a lot more of a holiday than usual

  10. "Nola McCarthy" - that is such brilliant old-school Aussie name :)

  11. Love that picture. It looks like Tom Selleck's in the kitchen with a baby on his back.

  12. I really enjoyed your post Johanna. Regarding ANZAC Day, I agree that we went through a period of what I consider to be questionable glorification of it, but I also wonder if that has subsided a bit, and there is now more of an emphasis on understanding the impact of the experience on such very young people? Just a little shift that I've sensed in the last couple of years.

    I loved the chow mein recipe. I think in my house it was known as kai si mein. Or maybe that is another delight of 60s and 70s Australian cooking. That packet of chicken noodle soup - I don't know what my mother would have done without it! Is that the Nursing Mother's Association cookbook I spy? I still pull out my copy now and again.

  13. Thanks Shauna - you are right about the name - reminds me of the adults of my childhood

    Thanks City Hippy Farm Girl - that is definitely tom selleck's moustache :-)

    Thanks Quince poacher - I agree that there is less glorification these days of ANZAC Day but the service still seemed quite black and white about who were the good guys and who were the enemies. Chicken noodle soup was indispensable in my mum's kitchen too though it is a sign of the times that I don't think it appears so much these days. My mum had a Nursing Mothers Association cookbook but I don't think this is it - it really is just called Recipes!

  14. I've never heard of ANZAC Day before - that was very interesting to read!

    Your Chow Mein looks fantastic! Must be a wonderful recipe to finish up leftovers in delicious way. :) Funny, I've never ever thought of putting rice and noodles into the same dish. :) I also avoid MSG like crazy since a few years now (which isn't easy because when you buy at the Asia store, it's in almost *everything*, at least in all sauces that are a bit more special than just regular soy sauce or tamari).

  15. The Chow Mein does sound fantastic! What a lovely way to spend your holiday (and lucky you, two days instead of one!). Loved the cover of that cookbook--yes, so very 70s!

  16. Thanks Kath - I like the chow mien being made without all the msg - in fact I am not much of a fan of chinese food due to the msg and don't buy many of the special sauces

    Thanks Ricki - it was great to have an extra long weekend though means there is no extra long weekend to look forward to :-(

  17. That's so sad - that Chinese food is contamined with MSG so often - because I love it so much, but you can hardly eat at a Chinese restaurant without getting stuffed with it.

    I don't buy special sauces, either. There's always a big bottle with basic, non-GMO soy sauce or tamari in my fridge, and I'm careful to buy none that contains more than soybeans, water, and salt. (Some also have ethanol or sweetener. Eek.) I use that to make all kinds of sauces and marinades myself.

  18. I love the sound of this homey version of chow mein. And I love old cookbooks like that!


Thanks for dropping by. I love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts and questions. Annoyingly the spammers are bombarding me so I have turned on the pesky captcha code (refresh to find an easy one if you don't like the first one)