Seattle's Child

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Chinese Soul Food

Hsiao-Ching Chou and her kids, Shen Riddle, 12, and Meilee Riddle, 14, enjoy a meal in their backyard. Photo by Joshua Huston

‘Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food’ author’s fresh take on packing a perfect picnic

Hsiao-Ching Chou and her kids take a festive meal outside.

Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food: If you ask Hsiao-Ching Chou’s kids what to bring on a picnic, they’ll say definitely green onion pancakes and potstickers, which are delicious hot or cold.

Most people would think of a sandwich as the ultimate picnic food, says Chou, a cookbook author and Magnolia mom of two. It’s got everything you need – starch, protein, sauce – in one neat package. For a successful picnic, the food needs to be prepared at home, easy to transport and not too fussy to eat.

“Why do people pack sandwiches? They’re self-contained. That’s not so different from stir-fried noodles or fried rice,” Chou adds. “Those are super-flexible and adaptable for your personal likes. Everybody gets a container of that and you’re set. It could be as easy as that.”

There’s an entire chapter devoted to stir-fry in Chou’s new book, Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food (2021, Sasquatch Books). And her sweet-and-sour spare ribs (in her first cookbook, Chinese Soul Food) were always a hit at pre-pandemic neighborhood potlucks.

For kids who like just plain white rice, you could pair it with wok-seared edamame and corn (recipe below). And Chou is generous with her instructions: you can use a skillet instead of a wok, use frozen veggies instead of fresh (but don’t use canned!), or toss in peas instead of edamame if that’s what you’ve got on hand.

“My original intention was to create books that were accessible to the average home cook,” Chou says. “People who aren’t familiar with this food, who hadn’t grown up with it. I wanted something that was more approachable.”

Chou was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States when she was 2½. She says she grew up in the Chinese restaurant in Missouri that her parents ran – if she wasn’t physically at school, she was at the restaurant.

These days, she tries to bring her own kids, 11 and 14, into the kitchen and follow their interests.

“My son really, really, really loves green onion pancakes,” Chou says. “He knows if I’m making dumplings, I’m also making green onion pancakes, because it’s the same dough. If he smells dough, he goes, ‘Are you making pancakes?’ ”

Now Shen can almost make the pancakes himself, from beginning to end, with supervision. Green onion pancakes are forgiving (they don’t have to be round); potstickers, on the other hand, require a bit more technique. (FYI: potstickers are the pan-fried version of dumplings.)

Here is Chou’s recipe for green onion pancakes.

Chou breaks down the process in videos on her website, mychinesesoulfood.com. Like all her recipes, Chou’s directions are straightforward and easy to follow.

She’s taught dumpling-making classes to kids and adults of all ages. You don’t expect 3- or 4-year-olds to have the attention span for the entire dumpling process. But you can start by giving them small tasks: give them a bit of dough to roll into balls, or make it their job to pinch the edges of the dumpling.

“I have made so many dumplings in my life,” Chou says. “I spent 40 years making these, professionally or for my family or teaching classes. It’s sheer repetition.”

Recipe for wok-seared edamame and corn

2 ears fresh corn or 1 (10-ounce) bag frozen corn
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 stalks green onions, finely chopped
1 cup shelled edamame (frozen is fine)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
Kosher salt (optional)

If using fresh corn, cut the kernels from the cob. Set aside.

Preheat a wok over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add the oil and onions, and quickly stir to combine for 10 seconds, or until the onions are fragrant.

Add the corn and edamame, and stir-fry for about 1 minute. It will sizzle as the frozen vegetables cook through.

Add the soy sauce and water, and continue to stir. After 1 to 2 minutes more, the corn should have a light sear and be fully cooked through. If needed, add salt to taste. Serve with steamed rice.

Makes 4 servings.

From Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food by Hsiao-Ching Chou (2021, Sasquatch Books).

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About the Author

JiaYing Grygiel

JiaYing Grygiel is the mama of two boys and a freelance photographer and writer. Her work has appeared in Seattle's Child, The Bellingham Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She previously worked as an editor for MSN.com and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now blogs at photoj.net.