Yankee great-grandparents might remember American chop suey as school lunch, or supper at home the day before payday. It is a frugal, homely, hopelessly nerdy dish, too mundane ever to be fashionable, especially considering its dubious genealogy as the penurious cook’s knock-off of a discredited pseudo-Chinese dish. Several years ago when we wrote our book Chili Nation, we augmented the basic formula with grated cheese and chow mein noodles and came up with a big bowl of comfort that is by no means deluxe, but is presentable in polite company. True to the soul of the dish, it is no trouble to make and is easy on the pocketbook.
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2/3 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced (about 2 ribs)
1 pound lean ground chuck
2 10-ounce cans Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chilies
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces elbow macaroni
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
chow mein noodles as garnish
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and sauté the onion and celery until soft. Stir in the ground beef and cook until brown, breaking it into a pebbly consistency. Add the Ro-tel diced tomatoes and green chilies, the cumin, chili powder, and salt. Simmer vigorously 15 minutes or so to reduce the liquid.
As the chili simmers, cook the elbow macaroni in boiling salted water until tooth-tender. Drain. Stir the noodles into the beef mixture.
Divide into four bowls and serve chili piping hot with sharp grated cheese melting on top and chow mein noodles sprinkled atop the cheese as a garnish.