I grew up in a really small town in Western Massachusetts. A really small town that just happens to be home to one of USA Today’s Top 50 Chinese Restaurants in the United States.
But I have no proof of this. Those lists change like, yearly, right? Whatever. One year it was named in the top and it was a big deal to the 17,000 residents of Greenfield, Massachusetts. A big deal, but no surprise. China Gourmet was a regular part of life for most everyone in town.
China Gourmet was the first restaurant I remember going to when my parents and I moved to the area from the California. We went for my fifth birthday. They brought me melon balls topped with whipped cream, and bigs puffs of fried bananas with a candle stuck in them for a celebratory dessert. I was unimpressed with the melon, but my five-year-old self was rather blown away by the bananas.
For my dinner, I remember ordering “sun-kissed scallops.” Large sea scallops deep-fried in tempura batter, coated in a tangy sweet citrus sauce. Always served with a gorgeous rose-shaped garnish crafted from water chestnuts or radishes or who knows what else. Needless to say, I was smitten with China Gourmet.
For years, we went to dinner or ordered take out from there at least once a week. Then they underwent an expansion and added a sushi bar. By that time I was older and involved in dozens of after school activities that kept my poor mother out with me until 8 or 9 PM every night, so the two of us made a habit of hitting the sushi bar maybe three times a week. This probably makes me sound spoiled, but it’s more that my mom doesn’t exactly cook. That, and she really likes spider maki.
Then came the Chopstick Wall of Fame. Patronize China Gourmet frequently enough, and they’d reward you with your own set of glass chopsticks, kept in a hand-painted box with your first and last name printed on the side, displayed on the wall for everyone to see. This being a small town, you better believe people knew if you had a pair of chopsticks on that wall. Heads would turn as you’d stand and gracefully saunter from your table to the wall to claim your chopsticks, winning the respect of all the lay diners who clearly did not appreciate General Tso’s chicken as much as you did.
You bet I was on the wall. I earned those chopsticks. And as far as I know, they’re still there today.
But things have changed. China Gourmet is now under new ownership. My father calls me and laments how “it’s changed. It just isn’t the same.” I’ve since moved to California, and let me tell you, Chinese take-out, like pizza, is a problem here. Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area are either strange, upscale-ish fusion establishments, or just uninviting store fronts charging $9 for the smallest size of wonton soup.
Thank goodness Japanese and Thai food are another story. Best sushi, pad see ew, and ramen I’ve ever had, all within walking distance of my apartment.
Still, the Chinese food is way overpriced, and leaves a lot to be desired. One of my favorites at China Gourmet when I was very young was broccoli and baby corn in garlic sauce. I know, strange, and not even on the menu. Then that evolved into mixed vegetables in garlic sauce, and finally I started ordering the dish with either tofu or shrimp.
As a vegan I ate enough tofu to hold me over for the next few decades, so these days I go for shrimp. I make a variation of this Shrimp & Vegetable Stir Fry at least once a week. You can use whatever vegetables you have in your fridge. My standard combination is broccoli, carrots, red bell pepper, and snow peas, because I always have those on hand. In the summer, I’ll add zucchini, and if I have a bunch of leafy greens I need to use up, I’ll toss in a handful of those.
This recipe is so versatile; if you aren’t a fan of shrimp, chicken, beef, or pork all work as well. The sauce is made from whisking together a few simple ingredients, so you have none of the typical take-out concerns like MSG, additives, and preservatives. Served over rice, this is a colorful, filling, and gluten free meal that won’t weigh you down.
Made in less than 30 minutes start to finish, this Shrimp & Vegetable Stir Fry is faster, much healthier, and significantly cheaper than ordering from the Chinese place around the corner that most definitely did not make USA Today’s Top 50 list.
Shrimp & Vegetable Stir Fry
Yields 3-4 servings
Succulent shrimp and crisp, colorful veggies, coated in my favorite garlicky stir fry sauce. An easy weeknight meal that will make you forget about ever ordering takeout.
- 4 cups (1 lb.) mixed fresh vegetables, chopped (i.e. broccoli, snow peas, bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, etc.)
- 1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined*
- 2 Tbs. grapeseed oil, divided*
- 1/4 cup oyster sauce
- 8 tsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
- 4 tsp. rice vinegar
- 4 tsp. packed brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth, divided
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- Brown or white rice, for serving
- Chopped scallions and sesame seeds, for garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the vegetables for 1-2 minutes, just until crisp tender. They will continue to cook in the stir fry. (If you are using softer veggies like zucchini or mushrooms, there is no need to blanch these first.) Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
Rinse the shrimp under cold water and pat it dry on paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat in large sauté pan or wok. Add the shrimp and cook for a 1.5-2 minutes, until it just begins to turn pink. Flip, and cook for a minute longer. While still slightly undercooked, transfer the shrimp to a large plate. It will finish cooking in the sauce. Overcooking at this stage will make the shrimp rubbery.
Make the sauce by whisking together the oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and 1/4 cup of broth.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan, and toss in the vegetables. Stir to coat in oil. Pour in the sauce and allow the vegetables to simmer for about two minutes, stirring frequently so that nothing burns.
In a small bowl, whisk together the corn starch and remaining broth. Pour this over the vegetables. Add the shrimp, and stir to distribute the cornstarch slurry.
Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes longer, just until the sauce thickens and bubbles. Remove the pan from the heat.
Spoon the stir fry over bowls of rice and garnish with chopped scallions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
*Sliced chicken, pork, or beef can be used instead of shrimp, though cooking times will vary. For a meatless stir fry, replace the shrimp with an additional 4 cups of chopped vegetables, or one package of drained, pressed, tofu. Note that oyster sauce contains oysters (obviously :D).
*Grapeseed oil is my preference for this recipe. If you don’t have it on hand, olive, canola, or peanut oil will also produce good results. Coconut oil works, but your stir fry will have a sweet, subtle coconut flavor.