Homemade Vegetable Chow Mein

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Have a hankering for Chinese take-out tonight? Mix up a batch of this Homemade Vegetable Chow Mein. You’ll enjoy a great dish and save some money, too!

chow mein, rice, and potstickers in a bowl

For as long as I can remember, my children’s childhood favorite — and my childhood favorite! — takeout has been Chinese food. Please note that I am talking about Chinese-American food.

Disclaimers aside, ever since I was a little girl, getting Chinese takeout was such a treat. Such a treat!

In my hometown there was a family owned restaurant called Lui’s Kitchen that made delicious food. Their Sweet and Sour Chicken was my favorite. Today chow mein and orange chicken from Panda Express are where it’s at.

However, due to my daughter’s nut allergy, we only go when she’s otherwise occupied for meal times. How sad is that?!

Even then it’s not worth the risk. Once I kissed her cheek after eating Kung Pao (with peanuts!) and worried for hours that it would harm her.

So, instead of indulging ourselves with Panda, I’m learning to make my own Chinese food at home! Not only is it absolutely safe for my daughter to enjoy, but it’s also cheaper! Even dining out on a budget, it can still be pretty pricey!

I’ve had to do a fair amount of experimenting to get it to the point that my family enjoys it as much as they do takeout. This Vegetable Chow Mein is one of the winners. We even had it for Chinese New Year recently.

I tried several different recipes I found online, did some tweaking, and found that we prefer this combination over the dozens of others that crossed my path. After spending big bucks over the years on different kinds of noodles, turns out that angel hair pasta is the people’s choice.

Traditional chow mein uses an egg noodle, but my people said this tastes most like Panda. Go figure.

I love it that it’s really a simple dish with ingredients that I can easily keep on hand all the time. Cabbage keeps well for a long time and it often goes on sale throughout the year, so keep an eye open for it. I hope you love this chow mein as much as we do!

ingredients to make chow mein

What is chow mein made of?

Chow mein is a Chinese-American dish of stir-fried noodles, meat, and vegetables.

This particular vegetable chow mein recipe contains all easy to find ingredients: angel hair pasta, cole slaw mix, onion, celery, avocado oil (you can use whatever neutral cooking oil you normally use), soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar.

What is the difference between chow mein and lo mein?

Chow mein is made with stir-fried noodles while lo mein is made with boiled noodles, tossed with stir-fried ingredients.

Is this authentic chow mein?

I think this is a trick question. I’ve looked at lots of different recipes for chow mein and few of them resemble what I’ve had at Chinese-American restaurants. Technically, this recipe is lo mein, but no one calls it that. You know what I mean?

Over the years, I’ve tried several different kinds of noodles, spending big bucks to buy the special noodles from the Asian food aisle, and consistently, my family says they like this version best AND that this version tastes most like their favorite take-out, Panda Express.

If you’re looking for a Panda Express copycat, then this recipe is for you!

sliced onions and celery on cutting board with knife

How do you make chow mein?

I’m a firm believer in assembling all your ingredients before you start. In this way, you can make sure you have everything you need and avoid getting halfway through only to find out you’re missing a crucial ingredient. 

Not that that has ever happened to me before. Ahem.

I also like getting all the chopping and slicing out of the way. You’ll notice that the onion is cut in half and then sliced from blossom to stem end. 

Cut the celery ribs at a diagonal angle. This increases the surface area of the celery pieces and helps them cook faster.

celery and onion cooking in skillet

Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the celery and onion until the vegetables are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Then add in the cole slaw mix.

adding coleslaw to skillet

You don’t have to use cole slaw mix, you can chop cabbage and shred carrots, but I find that these pre-prepped bags are super easy and cheap. 

Don’t worry if yours has purple cabbage or not — some do, some don’t — I like the color, but to be honest, I don’t think purple cabbage is traditional for chow mein.

chow mein vegetables cooking in skillet

When you first add the cole slaw mix your skillet will likely overflow. Don’t worry. Cabbage cooks down pretty quickly and “wilts” so that it looks like you have a lot less than you started with.

While the veggies are cooking in the skillet, boil the noodles just until al dente. They’re going to cook more when you add the vegetables and sauces, so don’t worry if they are slightly underdone.

Better than being mushy, I always say.

Once the noodles have cooked, return them to their pot and add the vegetables and sauce (soy sauce mixed with brown sugar). Cook over medium heat, tossing and mixing everything together.

You want to distribute the sauce and the veggies in and amid all the noodles. This may take some maneuvering, but it’s worth it!

cooked chow mein in pot

How to make this good and cheap:

Here are some of the strategies you can use to make this recipe more economical:

  • Stock up on ingredients when they are on sale. For instance, when I see a great price on pasta, I stock up and plan my meals around noodles. 
  • Compare prices. Keeping a price book is helpful so that I can know a good deal (for sure) when I see it. For instance, Trader Joe’s is the best place for me to buy sesame oil and soy sauce.
  • Snatching up manager specials. Cole slaw mix is regularly marked down at my store, making it even cheaper than it normally is.

How I make this recipe easy:

Having the right kitchen tools can really make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable. Over time, I’ve honed my collection so that they are perfect for my needs. Here are the tools that I use for this recipe:

bowl of chow mein, rice, and potstickers

4.86 from 7 votes
Homemade Vegetable Chow Mein
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
25 mins
 

Have a hankering for Chinese take-out tonight? Mix up a batch of this Homemade Vegetable Chow Mein. You'll enjoy a great dish and save some money, too!

Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Chinese
Keyword: asian, chinese take-out, chow mein, homemade chow mein, vegetable chow mein
Servings: 8
Calories: 305 kcal
Author: Jessica Fisher
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons avocado oil or other neutral cooking oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 2 ribs celery sliced on the diagonal
  • 16- ounce bag cole slaw mix
  • 1 pound angel hair pasta
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, heat the oils until shimmering. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add the cole slaw mix, and continue to cook, stirring, until the cabbage is wilted and the onions have started to turn clear, about 5 to 7 minutes more.
  3. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook just until al dente.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce and the brown sugar in a small dish, and stir until the brown sugar is dissolved.
  5. Rinse and drain the pasta and return it to the pot on low. Add the soy sauce mixture and the sautéed vegetables. Cook, tossing to combine the noodles with the soy sauce and vegetables. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Note: leftovers are good for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Facts
Homemade Vegetable Chow Mein
Amount Per Serving
Calories 305 Calories from Fat 63
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 11%
Sodium 825mg 34%
Potassium 273mg 8%
Total Carbohydrates 50g 17%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 7g
Protein 9g 18%
Vitamin A 1.1%
Vitamin C 26.4%
Calcium 4.3%
Iron 7.7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Homemade Vegetable Chow Mein | Good Cheap Eats

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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Comments

  1. Kelly says

    I am supposed to be eating cabbage on a regular basis, but I don’t. This would help! Can I leave out the brown sugar without affecting the recipe much?

    • Maybe? It does add something to blend the flavors. Can you do another sweetener?

      • Kelly says


        I used sweet mirin sauce because I have it and hardly use it on anything else. I can see where a sweetener is necessary to combine the flavors. I used the noodles I had on hand-fettuccine-and didn’t have celery. Once I got the dish finished I noticed a package of spaghettini-more like angel hair than fettuccine! My family liked it and I doubled the batch so that they’d have leftovers to eat before Sunday night youth group.

  2. Pat says

    I bookmarked this recipe to try next week Can’t wait!! I’ll come back and rate it after we try it..

  3. Heidi says


    Made this tonight and It was a huge hit! Even my kid who doesn’t like Asian thought it was great. Thank you for a great, simple recipe.

  4. Sabra Weimer says


    Made this last night and it was delicious. We added chicken ours. We had low sodium soy sauce on hand and used that. My husband who never salts his food added salt and said it definitely needs regular soy sauce. It tasted like Panda express for sure. this is a keeper and we will make it again. thanks for sharing this yummy recipe!


  5. I made this recipe last night! It literally tasted just as “good as Panda Express!” according to my 16 and 13 year old sons. This means it equals a 5 star rating! I realize any native Chinese chef is giving a pretty big eye roll with this description of what is worthy of 5 stars, however I was also very impressed. The ease of ingredients, efficiency making dinner in just under 30 minutes, and flavor was a true winner! I only altered the recipe a bit to a focus on our health currently. We exchanged brown sugar for equal parts honey and soy sauce for equal parts Coconut Aminos. I would have exchanged the angel hair pasta for zucchini noodles, but my kids would have noticed that exchange. Now that I have their trust in the Chow Mein department, we might get away with that next time! Thank you Jessica for finding a healthier and true match to our families most beloved Take Out, Vegetable Chow Mein. Happy! Happy! Happy! 🙂


  6. I made this for dinner last night, and it was a hit! I added just a little cooked chicken as vegetarian meals don’t go over well. Plus, some of my family wanted more spice so they added FishMama Spice Mix to it. (But they add FM spice to everything but dessert! ?)

    Excellent, easy recipe I’ll be doing again!!

  7. Julia says


    This was a great meal for our fam and it came together quickly for a weeknight! I was able to use up a partial cabbage head, less than fresh carrots (ha!), and leftover frozen pulled pork that had a bit of chinese 5 spice in it. Yummy!

  8. Regina Ulmer says


    Thank you so much for this! At first I was seriously doubting if this would turn out so great since it didn’t seem like there was much to it, but then I tried it and I knew I was going back for seconds! Even my 14 month old toddler, who normally doesn’t like stuff with sesame oil in it, loved this!

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