Thursday, April 1, 2010

God's Own Patriotic Comfort Food

Maybe it's the rainy weather, but this week I've been craving comfort foods: baked beans, mashed potatoes, and sautéed greens. American Chop Suey is a hearty staple dish at church potlucks and school cafeterias. Traditionally made with macaroni elbows, tomato sauce, onions, and ground beef, a bowl of American Chop Suey fills you up and warms you from the inside out.

In a recent discussion with my husband, who is From Away, I learned that only New Englanders call this vaguely Italian hodgepodge by a Chinese name. To most Americans it's simply Macaroni and Beef, though oddly, midwesterners call it Johnny Marzetti. By any name, it's a meal that satisfies our deepest human need for protein, starch, and salt all mixed up in a bowl. (I'm reminded of my father-in-law, on his most recent visit to Maine, attempting in vain to order Chili Size, a similar slop with a Tex-Mex twist that's revered throughout the southwest.)

Instead of ground beef, this healthier vegan version of American Chop Suey uses crumbled tempeh (use something like Morningstar Farms Veggie Crumbles if you prefer) and an assortment of chopped vegetables. Even if you can eat gluten, try quinoa pasta here; sturdier than rice or wheat, it adds even more protein to this classic stick-to-your-ribs dish.

American Chop Veggie
Vegan Marzetti
Macaroni and Tempeh

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
8 ounces tempeh
1½ cups sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons vegan worcestershire sauce or tamari (wheat-free, if necessary)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
28-ounce can roasted diced tomatoes
8 ounces pasta (any small shape)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

In a large skillet, warm oil over medium heat. Sauté onion 4-5 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and carrot and sauté an additional 4-5 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften.

Crumble tempeh into bite-sized pieces over skillet. Add mushrooms, worcestershire sauce or tamari, thyme, oregano, basil, chili powder, salt, and black pepper. Toss to mix well. Sauté 3 minutes, until mushrooms are soft. Add diced tomatoes and their liquid. Stir and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is al dente, drain and toss with vegetable mixture. Stir in nutritional yeast.

Serves 6.


  1. I'm from Philadelphia and my father used to make this when my brothers and I were kids, and he called it American chop suey. He said he learned to make it when he was a cook in the army. My mother hated it and would never eat it but we kids loved it and would beg him to make it. I never realized it was a "real" dish that other people had heard of. Who knew?

    Even though we don't have to avoid gluten, our pantry is stocked with quinoa pasta because we prefer it to wheat pasta. My brother is coming to visit us tonight — maybe I should make this and jog his memory!

  2. We have something like that in Germany, too. People usually mistake it for pasta bolognese, ha.

    I really need to start using tempeh in pasta dishes, that looks incredibly delicious

  3. That does look super comforting! And a perfect bridge between winter and spring.

  4. Definitely comfort food, looks great!
    Eco Mama

  5. A recipe so good, it needs THREE names!

  6. ps. Having a giveaway that might be fun for your students. :)

  7. Yum! Looks hearty and delicious.

  8. That looks great! Just have to mention though, those Morningstar crumbles aren't vegan anymore. :(

  9. Andrea: Interesting! This is like anthropology.

    Amy: Thanks for the tip. I don't eat Morningstar crumbles anymore because they're not gluten-free, either. In my opinion, tempeh is the best ground beef alternative!

  10. Oh Yum! That looks and sounds so tasty and comforting! I've never thought of making pasta this way before, thanks for such a great idea and recipe:)

  11. Oh that looks delicious! Never heard of that before - definitely comfort food.

  12. Weird - I totally know the dish you're talking about, but I've never heard it referred to as any of these names, especially Johnny Marzetti! And I'm from the Midwest. ;) Here in Minnesota, we just call this Hamburger Hot Dish. Haha. Your version looks & sounds delicious!!

  13. That looks like the perfect comfort food!

  14. That looks hearty and delicious, amazing comfort food!

  15. This looks delicious. Do you think it would work with tvp?

    Thanks for the recipe.

  16. Whoa! Is this different than Goulash? 'Cuz that's what we used to call it in Michigan growing up.

    And just who the heck is Johnny Marzetti anyway?

  17. For what its worth, according to Wikipedia:

    'In parts of New England, Goulash can refer to a pasta dish with ground beef and tomato sauce also known as "American Chop Suey."'

    Hey, maybe I was born a New Englander afterall!

  18. Ah! In my house, this is called Mexican Skillet, and we flavor it with chili powder. (And I'm a New Englander!)

  19. Love comforting indeed! I've been really into pasta dishes more than usual lately so this would fit in quite nicely.


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