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Healthier Chinese Food

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Want some Sodium with your MSG?

In terms of gastronomy, Americans can learn a lot from the Chinese. The traditional Chinese diet consists mainly of unprocessed foods, with an emphasis on the veggies. Meat is used sparingly, and they consume very little dairy. Unfortunately, what we call “Chinese” food—overflowing with MSG, sodium, and oil—hardly resembles true Chinese fare.  The entire time I lived in China, I saw not one mention of general tso’s chicken, orange sesame beef, or deep-fried crab rangoon.

Yesterday, I was hit with a Chinese-food craving. But rather than run to my nearest Wok-n-Roll (where everything is deep-fried and nothing is vegan), I decided to make my own. Later, I made my own dessert as well. It wasn’t Chinese in the slightest:

vegan cookie dough balls

Gingerbread Cookie Dough Balls

Then again, fortune cookies aren’t really Chinese, either. In actuality, these cookies hail from San Francisco! And my lunch, a few hours earlier? It hailed from Texas:

healthy stir fry

CCK Ginger Stir Fry

(I didn’t measure anything, so I’ll just give you the gist)

  • Broccoli
  • Red Peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Onion
  • Pineapple
  • Water Chestnuts
  • Tamari, Garlic, and Fresh Ginger (or dry)
  • You can also add cashews!

Steam broccoli in a covered wok (with a little water), until it turns bright green. Add other ingredients (except pineapple) and stir-fry. (You could also add a little sweetener if desired, and if you want a thicker “sauce” heat the soy sauce in a little dish, then mix with cornstarch.) At the very end, add the pineapple. As seems to be the case with most ethnic foods, this tastes better the day after it’s cooked.

vegan stir fry

Can’t have a Chinese meal without rice, right?

organic brown rice

I took the lazy route and pulled this box from my freezer, where it’d been forgotten for months. Usually, I’m not a rice girl. But every now and then, my cravings surprise me. Today, they said, “Eat rice!” So I did.

I ate my pseudo-Chinese with chopsticks.

healthy chinese

Grandma and Grandpa (or, rather, Obaasan and Ojiisan) joined the luncheon. Continuing with the theme of the post, they’re not Chinese either; we bought them in Japan!

What are your favorite Chinese Foods?
And do you ever make your own stir fries, fried rice, or other Chinese fare?

Writing this post reminded me about my Healthier Lo Mein. I haven’t made it in ages! Other American-Chinese dishes I like to make include fried rice (or bulgur) and the ubiquitous stir fry. Also, does anyone else love water chestnuts? I do, but I always forget to cook with them!

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Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 
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  1. Albizia says:

    Even if I make something Chinese, I don’t know it is Chinese. I love spicy stir fries in general and I am also a big fan of emperor’s rice. But eating black rice with surimi isn’t very Chinese either, is it? 🙂

    1. Mmmm you know what’s good? Black rice with coconut milk. I had some kind of black rice pudding in Thailand, and it was sooooo good!

  2. Jennifer JCD says:

    I always wonder what REAL ethic foods would be, not the Americanised stuff we see too often in restaurants. Thus, I cannot say I’ve made many Chinese foods lately because I don’t really know what traditional/typical Chinese foods would be. We did, however, make steamed veggies with a soy-ginger sauce the other day and served it over quinoa. Yum.

    What would you say is a typical Chinese day of food? Breakfast, lunch, supper/tea, snacks, etc.?

    1. LOL I can’t say for sure, since I never spent the whole day in the home of a Chinese person. But I found this link for you:
      When we lived there, our housekeeper would sometimes make us dinner. There’d be at least three different veggie dishes (one of which was always a dark-leaft green), and then another dish with veggies plus some meat (which I didn’t eat, since I was already a vegetarian by then). And there was ALWAYS rice!

  3. Panda Express’s Orange Chicken is basically my guilty pleasure. I know that it is the unhealthiest food out there, but it is so good!!! I make a lot of rice bowls at school. ANd they are much healthier than the Panda fare 🙂

    1. Lisa C. says:

      That was my favorite too, before I went vegan! In fact, it was the ONLY Chinese food I’d eat. I was a very picky little eater lol!

    whenever my mother and me get Chinese take-out, i always roll with the sauteed broccoli. keepin’ it simple, and delicious!

    1. Mmmm I like the garlic-ginger broccoli. Oh heck, you can’t go wrong with broccoli, can ya? 😉

  5. VeggieGirl says:

    Yep! Looove stir-fries.

  6. I do make Chinese style stir fries pretty often. I love them bc they are so quick and loaded with veggies! Yours looks really good!

  7. i love making a soy/ginger stir fry!! yum

  8. Camille says:

    Next time you find yourself in San Francisco, you should go to the fortune cookie factory! It is a tiny little store tucked away in a back alley of Chinatown, but it is soooo cool!

    1. Sheesh, San Fran just has the coolest factories/museums/etc. No fair to the rest of the world! When we last visited, my favorite was the Barbie Museum. In my defense, though, I was ten. 🙂

  9. Melissa says:

    I LOVE water chestnuts.
    I always pick the Moo Goo Gai Pan at our local SUPER vegan friendly chinese place (yes, Moo Goo is so so americanized but I love it) due to it being packed full of veggies, including my beloved water chestnuts. I never forget them and get pissy if we’re out of stock at work. I’ll actually put off making stir fry if we don’t have any on the shelf! Hah.

    Also, my rattie kid, Daniel, thanks you for the banana coconut butter recipe.
    He’s on antibiotics currently and they are ucky and bitter tasting – he’s been getting them mixed into the butter since that post, though, and now he thinks he’s the LUCKIEST rat in the world. And I have to have my SO help me keep his cagemates from coming and stealing the little spoon of meds from him! We do a lot of blocking little thieves faces and holding down little grabby paws. 😉

    1. Oh my word lol you fed the coconut banana butter to your rat? Too cute. Molly and Henry WISH they were so lucky. They’d like to know if you’ll be their mommy ;).

      1. Melissa says:

        I’ll give them anything to get them to take their Baytril! Usually it’s soyatoo or jam – but I’ve resorted to soy ice cream and pudding in the past. Hah. That stuff is icky even when it’s compounded. This time the vet didn’t compound it with anything (so the dose is tiny – .04 cc!) so it *really* needs something good to mask it. I was doing pumpkin, which they love normally, but Daniel strongly opposed after a few doses. Hah.

        Of course, I always nip a couple bites of the butter before doling out Daniel’s little bit. Rat serving size is pretty small so I don’t have to get too selfish. LOL.

  10. Kathleen says:

    I love Chinese, but I don’t eat it very often. I need to try this out! 🙂

  11. Katie, you really went “balls to the wall” with this one!! haha. you know what im thinking i might try when my cold starts going away and i can get back to being kitchen creative? im thinking of creating a combo version of your 3 ingredient peanut butter balls WITH gingerbread cookie dough balls! seriously, how yummy would that be!!! mmm should i attempt it?


    1. Oh yes, please do it!! I went to try it one day… but then I got lazy and just omitted the crushed oats. But I’m still super-curious as to how it’d turn out.
      P.S. Feel better right now!!

  12. i honestly think its been about 2 years since ive had chinese food.. im MORE than embarrassed, but its becuz i can never get healthy kind! PROBLEM AVERTED

    1. See, this is another reason you need to visit my house. I will cook for you and make you Chinese and pizzerts. In return, all I ask is that you bring along fudgies :).

      1. girl, I am SO THERE! when’s the next flight? 😛

        1. Unfortunately probably not for a while… it’s supposed to ice 🙁

  13. Jos says:

    Favorite Chinese food – too many to choose..hehe..but in general I love stir fries and could make any combos of it- last time I made Stir fry mixed veggies with seaweed and jicama…soooo delicious!

    I make stir fries very often as it’s healthiest, simplest and fastest to make in a pinch…basically just throw in a bunch of stuff that you have in your need exact measurement etc.

    1. oh I never know what to do with jicama! I’ll have to try your idea! 🙂

        1. Thanks a ton! I’ll definitely check it out :).

  14. I definitely appreciate a healthy version of Chinese food. Like you said- Chinese food isn’t naturally unhealthy, but American restaurants make it so!

  15. Disturbed says:

    My favorite chinese type food thing is stir-fried vegetables usually with some teriyaki sauce over some brown rice. So amazing.
    I make something like that when I am home, except I use no-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing instead of terriyaki.
    And I love *love* water chestnuts.
    I make this thing sometimes that is Italian green beans and water chestnuts with a little bit of shredded carrots all cooked together with a little spices-so good.

  16. I think it is actually quite laughable how “Americanized” we make other countries’ foods! 🙂 I love stirfries and I actually haven’t had one in a while. Next week it is! 😉

  17. lian says:

    hi katie !
    i’m sending you an e-hug for this post and your clarification that *real* chinese food is not the takeout we find at Panda Express (i’m chinese, and i love real chinese food :D)
    anyway, i actually don’t really like water chestnuts 😛
    but this recipe looks delicious 😀

    <3 stay warm !

    1. Aww thanks, Lian! And thanks for the warm wishes too… it’s so cold here :-?!

  18. I’ve written about this some on my blog, too – Chinese food in China is so different! Unfortunately, it is changing and becoming less healthy, and Chinese people are becoming sicker for it as they adapt to some Western ideas (like a lot more meat, and the emergence of dairy into the diet). I had one friend who refused to eat MSG so whenever we would go to a restaurant or the school cafeteria he would say, “Bu yao weijing!” and it would annoy the cooks like crazy!

    My favorite Chinese food stateside is Mu Shu Vegetable, which I never saw in China. In China I loved jiaozi (dumplings), and Beijing makes some mean noodles. But I wasn’t vegan when I lived there, so I’d really like to go back and see what kind of vegan options I could find! Obviously there’s plenty of tofu and veggies, and I even went to a vegan restaurant there without knowing it (a Buddhist one), the only problem is the whole “meat as flavoring” thing, and that people wouldn’t really recognize that as a problem for vegans/vegetarians.

    1. Yeah, the meat as flavoring thing was HARD! Like chicken or beef stock in pretty much all the veggie dishes. Or shrimp paste. But Shanghai had the BEST veg restaurant, so I ate there a lot. The rest of my family (not vegetarians) always wanted to go there too! They had this amazing carrot sauce… *swoons* :).

  19. That looks sooooo much better than typical americanized “chinese”!!!!!!! Thanks!

  20. I love makin’ my own stir fry!!! To me, this beats take-out any day. Because you are right… the States’ Chinese food is not quite the traditional kind…

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