With about 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States—more than all the McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Taco Bells combined—it’s safe to say this Asian cuisine is a popular choice when it comes to dining out or ordering in. Trouble is, the Americanized versions of Chinese cuisine you’ll find at many eateries can be packed with sodium, calories, and sugar. To cash in on the potential healthfulness of Chinese food without sacrificing the deliciousness, make your own at home. These five recipes are a good place to start; even the more-exotic sounding ingredients can typically be found in the international foods section of your grocery store.
This vegetarian dish gets its protein from tofu (also called soybean curd or bean curd), which can be bland on its own but tends to take on the flavor of any ingredients it’s cooked with—in this case reduced-sodium soy sauce, scallions, and plenty of garlic. A type of Chinese cabbage, bok choy adds vitamin C as well as some dietary fiber. If you can’t find bok choy, substitute napa cabbage and Swiss chard. (For a related dish minus the tofu, try our Baby Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms.)
Soup, particularly a broth-based, vegetable-filled one, is a great way to start your meal—and can be a boon if you’re watching your weight, since soups’ high water content helps keep you full on fewer calories (this one has just 150 calories per serving). To make the soup spicier, double the amount of black pepper or substitute ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
While a typical chow mein contains meat, noodles, water chestnuts, and bean sprouts, this recipe moves it a little out of the (take-out) box. We substitute shredded napa cabbage for the bean sprouts and replace the water chestnuts with equally crunchy jicama. And since most of us consume too much sodium, we use “reduced-sodium” soy sauce, which means 25 percent less than the typical product. (Even so, the recipe still contains 740 mg of sodium per serving, which may be too much for people on reduced- or low-sodium diets.)
This recipe infographic is a little like having a Chinese restaurant in your own kitchen. Pick ingredients from each of the four categories —poultry, vegetables, aromatics, and seasonings —and your palate will never get bored. While these recipes use poultry, you can also use other protein sources, including tofu if you’re vegetarian.
Though very popular in Chinese cuisine, duck is pretty rarely consumed in the U.S., perhaps in part because many people think of it as too fatty to eat. But if you remove the skin (as we do in this recipe), duck meat is about equivalent in calories and fat to skinless chicken (around 140 calories per half-cup, roasted). Like other types of poultry, duck is a good source of protein, iron, selenium, B vitamins, and zinc.