It’s fairly well documented that I have a serious Thai takeout addiction. Back in the day though, it was far more common for the contents of my red and white to-go boxes to include mooshoo pork and vegetable chow mein.
My love of noodles runs deep, and as a semi-hyperactive 11-year-old, that meant that I basically inhaled my chow mein in one continuous mouthful. You would think that the lack of chopstick finesse would slow me down. But it just meant I used them more as a shovel, making sure that the noodles remained in one tangled mop, and my mouth kept moving.
That’s not an exaggeration. One time I actually ate my vegetable chow mein so fast that I got up from the table and proceeded to regurgitate the entire meal into the kitchen sink. If that sounds disgusting, don’t worry. The noodles were so intact that you would have never been able to tell that someone attempted to eat them. It was as if I’d swallowed the whole takeout container anaconda-style and the only thing my body had managed to digest was the cardboard.
This day may or may not have been the day that I stopped eating chow mein. I would also like to think it was the day I decided to learn how to use chopsticks and slow the fuck down. But that took a few more years.
In fact, being better about chewing was one of my experiments for digestion month of The Wellness Project. As I learned the hard way in my youth, our stomachs don’t have teeth. Saliva is such an important stage of digestion, especially for more fiber-packed meals that aren’t as forgiving as a nest of simple processed carbs.
Which brings me to today’s reinterpretation of my old favorite takeout order, where I’ve replaced the mound of chow mein noodles with spaghetti squash.
I feel so sorry for spaghetti squash. Before there was the spiralizer, this was the OG veggie noodle. And it rarely gets the attention it deserves anymore.
I know people get intimidated by having to hack away at such a big gourd. But roasting the squash until it’s flesh becomes soft glassy strands couldn’t be easier. If you’re afraid of cutting it open, you can simply roast it whole. The downside is that then you’ll then have to wrangle the seeds after the fact. I much prefer grabbing the largest, sharpest knife I own and cutting it in half.
To make it safer, remove the top and bottom so that you have a flat edge to stand the squash up lengthwise, and another flat edge to begin slicing your knife through. You can keep your fingers on either side of the knife so that they don’t get lost below and seesaw the blade while applying pressure. A serrated knife takes a little more elbow grease, but the sawing motion might feel safer to you. Whichever way you prepare the squash (and this is a good guide), it works perfectly as a fiber rich noodle replacement in this recipe, which is also packed with other healthy Farmers’ market finds: shitake mushrooms, bok choy, and sweet shallots. The combination was so good that I was inspired to regress back to my old childhood shoveling tendencies. But luckily, I’ve learned a few things about patience and manners over the years. #maturity
Fun aside: I read in Marie Roach’s brilliant book Gulp that dog food manufacturers judge the deliciousness of their product by this lack of self-control. If the dog eats so fast that he pukes immediately afterward, it’s a very good sign.
For what it’s worth, I feel like this spaghetti squash chow mein recipe would pass the human version of that test. But for the sake of your stomach and your families’ appetite, I highly recommend giving chewing a try.
From one healthy, chow mein hounding hedonist, to another,
Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein with Shitakes and Bok Choy (Gluten-Free)
- 1 medium (2 1/2 pound) spaghetti squash
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut or olive oil
- 1/4 pound shitakes, stems removed and thinly sliced
- 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1 bok choy, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup gluten-free tamari or soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Using the largest chef’s knife you have, cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. It’s helpful to put a crumpled dish towel on your cutting board to stabilize it, or to remove a little bit from both ends so you can stand the squash upright without it wobbling. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits from the center cavity.
Arrange both cleaned squash halves cut-side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan (this will help steam and soften the squash). Bake in the oven until the squash is tender, meaning a fork can easily be inserted from flesh to skin, about 45 minutes. Flip the halves over to allow them to cool. When safe to touch, use a fork to shred the spaghetti strands from the squash: begin along the edges, pulling the strands towards the center, then scoop the bundle into a bowl.
While the squash is roasting, prepare the vegetable chow mein: in a large wok or skillet, heat the oil. Saute the shitakes over high heat until they’ve released their moisture and are beginning to brown, 4 minutes. Stir in the shallot, ginger, garlic, and jalapeno (if using). Stir fry for another two minutes, until fragrant. Add the bok choy and continue to cook until soft and wilted, 3 minutes.
When the shredded squash is prepped and ready to roll, add the tamari, sesame oil and maple syrup to the vegetable mixture, stirring to combine. Fold in the squash and cook for two minutes more over low heat, until the noodles are well-coated in the soy mixture.
Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately.