Eight basic Chinese recipes for the novice cook

Super, super-simple ideas from my mum for when you want Chinese food and aren’t sure what to make.


I was trying to make my inbox a little less terrifying today, and stumbled upon this email my mother sent me a few months ago when I was first panicking slightly about how exactly to cook (trust me, there is really no need to panic) – super-simple ideas for when you want Chinese food and aren’t sure what to make. (The salmon thing isn’t quite as Chinese.)

Most of these one-liners are an “intuitive recipe” (I’ll write more about this later) for a common dish you’ll see in Chinese households. Well, I guess the Coke one is kind of weird, but the rest are pretty standard at my house, at least. They contain the essence of the recipe, but may be inscrutable to someone unfamiliar with Chinese food, so for some of them I’ve added in italics the cooking technique(s) needed and a picture of what a finished dish might look like (if you click on the photo, you’ll get to the original image). Each is also followed by a link to a Chinese recipe website (content in Chinese, but there are photos) that goes into more detail.

I should also mention at this point something absolutely crucial to Chinese stir-frying: do not use olive oil. I know it’s a favorite with non-Chinese cooks. Don’t use it. Southern Chinese food in particular is about enhancing ingredients, not masking them. Overmanipulation is a sin. Olive oil is a) unsuitable for extremely high heat, e.g. what is used in stir-frying, and b) leaves a bad taste and texture that overpowers the food.

Cold garlic and cucumber salad (凉拌蒜蓉黄瓜)

  • Slice cucumber; chop garlic; pepper, salt, sesame oil. The linked recipe includes salt and vinegar; I [my mum] don’t think this is necessary. Mix well and let sit for a while.
  • 黄瓜,蒜头切小粒,胡椒粉,盐,香麻油。你可以参考如下链接。不过,他们有放糖、醋。可是我觉得不需要。
  • http://home.meishichina.com/recipe-178159.html

Scrambled eggs and tomato (西红柿炒鸡蛋)

Broccoli and meat stir-fry (西兰花炒肉片)

  • Use potatoes, celery, bittergourd, or eggplant. Other vegetables work too. Use cornstarch to tenderize the meat. Boil or steam broccoli, cook meat, stir-fry together. Butter is better than regular oil, in my opinion.
  • 用土豆、或是芹菜 Celery、或是苦瓜、茄子都可以。其他的蔬菜也可以。需要 Corn Starch 把肉片捏软。
  • http://home.meishichina.com/recipe-41911.html

Red Roast Chicken Wings (红烧鸡翅)

  • Marinade wings in soy sauce and sugar, then fry briefly with a little oil; when both sides are lightly brown, add water and simmer until dry.
  • 用酱油、糖腌一下鸡翅,然后少油煎一下,两面都有点焦,加水,小火煮到水干。
  • http://www.meishichina.com/Eat/RMenu/200806/38611.html

Coca-cola Chicken Wings (可乐鸡翅) (I’d never heard of these…)

Fragrant Fried Salmon (香煎三文鱼)

  • “Marinade” fish with salt and pepper, then pan-fry. Salmon can also be used for a seafood pasta: just cut into small pieces.
  •  用盐和胡椒把鱼腌入味,再煎。三文鱼也可以煮意大利面。切小块煎后,放在意大利面上。
  • http://home.meishichina.com/recipe-53984.html

Prawn stir-fry (虾仁炒…)

 Noodle Soup (面汤)

  • You can use ham, sausages, vegetables, etc. to cook the soup. For details see link.
  • 可以用 ham, 香肠、青菜煮面汤,加入你喜欢的任何东西。煮法如下链接参考。
  • http://home.meishichina.com/recipe-103597.html

Let me know with with a comment how these turned out if you try them, or if anything needs further clarification/translation!

Easy improvements on spaghetti with store-bought sauce

This is the recipe for the spaghetti I made when cooking for the first time. This easy improvement on the sad pasta-with-butter student staple involves store-bought tomato sauce and simple dorm-room ingredients (it was very much a ‘what do I have in this fridge’ job) but tastes really good! The cheese means that there’s some substance to it despite the absence of meat; the butter makes it taste richer than it actually is, and a bit of sugar brings out the sweetness of real tomatoes and balances the overwhelming tartness of store-bought tomato sauce. There aren’t any quantities in the instructions below, but trust your eye. It knows what food should look like.

My first spaghetti
It actually tastes rather good.

Easy Better Spaghetti

Sans cooking time for the spaghetti, this should take 10 minutes at the very most.


  • spaghetti, cooked (how to cook spaghetti)
  • store-bought spaghetti sauce
  • cheese (I used mozzarella designed for pizza)
  • tomato(es)
  • butter
  • garlic, chopped
  • rosemary (I used coarsely chopped needles, but flakes or anything should be fine)
  • sugar


  1. In a shallow pan, sauté garlic in butter. (This is the most complicated-sounding step. It really just involves greasing a hot pan with some butter, adding the garlic, and pushing it around until it looks very slightly brown and starts to smell good.)
  2. Add as much spaghetti sauce as needed, then add pasta and stir well.
  3. Add lots of cheese – try to sprinkle it where the heat can get to it faster – wait for it to melt a little, and mix into the pasta. At this point you can also add some rosemary so you don’t end up with it all concentrated on top afterwards.
  4. Transfer this to a plate.
  5. Chop a tomato any way you want, and add it to the pan; press on it a little with the spatula to get some juice out.
  6. Add a pinch of sugar and mix until the sugar seems integrated into the tomatoes/juice.
  7. Put the pasta back in and mix well with this.
  8. Remove and sprinkle some rosemary on top.
  9. Be proud of yourself.

I feel like this is so simple that giving it a blog post is way over the top and will make me a laughingstock – but I am posting it anyway because think it will actually be useful to people who have no clue how to feed themselves other than instant ramen and microwaveable instant oatmeal (see: me before today). If it is of help to you, please let me know in the comments so I can feel less silly!