Despite its Chinese influence, the dish known as chop suey in the States is a distinctly American dish with dozens of urban legends surrounding its origins. Like its muddled past, chop suey is improvisational and fluid by nature -- although an Asian-inspired sauce and an assortment of vegetables always serve as the foundation, chop suey leaves you with plenty of room for experimentation.
In a bowl, mix an Asian-inspired sauce. A few spoonfuls of soy sauce and oyster sauce combined with about a cup of broth -- typically chicken-flavored -- acts as the base of the sauce. For additional kick, season the sauce with garlic and black pepper, or add a spoonful or so of molasses or brown sugar for a sweeter flavor. Mix in a few spoonfuls of cornstarch to thicken the sauce to your liking, then set the bowl aside.
Slice or cube your choice of meat -- most commonly pork, but chicken and beef also work -- or tofu into manageable chunks. Lightly grease a nonstick wok with vegetable or canola oil and place it over medium heat. Cook the meat through or lightly brown the tofu. Set the meat or tofu aside.
Grease the wok with more oil and increase the heat to medium-high. Add a few cups of mung bean sprouts, which serve as the foundation of the dish, and one thinly sliced red or green bell pepper. Round out your chop suey with a spicy veggie such as a few sliced garlic gloves or slivered onion. If you want a crunchier texture and brighter flavor, add a handful of some combination of water chestnuts, snow peas or bamboo shoots. Stir-fry the vegetables until they're mostly tender -- add the crisp veggies after the others so they maintain just a bit of crunch.
Shape the vegetable mixture into a well, give your sauce a quick stir and pour it into the center of the well. Increase the heat to high and allow the sauce to come to a gentle boil. Add the meat or tofu, then stir the ingredients together, re-heating the meat or tofu in the process. Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste, and serve the hot mixture over delicate noodles, such as Udon noodles, or rice.
For more intense flavor, marinate your meat or tofu in garlic, soy sauce and oyster sauce for about 15 minutes before cooking.
Experiment with vegetables to create your own signature chop suey. Celery adds more crunch, while shiitake or oyster mushrooms lend a savory flavor. Veggies such as carrots, baby corn, broccoli or green beans make for a more subtle taste, while choices such as lotus root, jicama, red onion, bok choy or asparagus give the dish a bolder flavor.
Add kick to your sauce with chopped shallots, fresh ginger or a hearty dash of fish sauce.