One of my earliest memories of America is waking up from a winter afternoon nap to a horrible smell—a stench, if you will. Groggy and slightly hungry, I stumbled to the kitchen to find my mother putting together dinner. “I’m using this new vegetable I found,” she said, revealing a slimy green and brown concoction. The classic dried shrimp sauce looked familiar, but the vegetables in question were unlike anything I’d seen before. They were small, bitter- smelling, soggy half circles with layers and layers of tiny leaves.
They were, I would come to learn, Brussels sprouts. And they smelled like shit.
The traditional version of this dish is made with bok choy, which works with the light, umami-filled seafood sauce. But Brussels sprouts added an unexpected element, a bitterness and a mushiness and a smell that stunk up the apartment for days. I threw a fit. I remember being forced to eat the sprouts, spitting them out when my mom wasn’t looking, crying and com- plaining the entire time.
Only now do I look back and realize what a brat I was being, and how hard my mom was working to make do with whatever ingredients she could find. And to her credit, she became a better cook over the years. So in her honor, I went back and tried this dish—and to my surprise, it worked. The extra hit of garlic masks the typical Brussels sprouts smell, while the chicken bouillon adds a savoriness to counterbalance the fishiness of the shrimp. I promise, it won’t stink up your apartment, but if you’re really nervous you could just use bok choy.
- In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the Brussels sprouts. Stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the salt and keep stirring until the sprouts turn bright green.
- Add the shrimp and the reserved broth or water, plus the chicken bouillon powder. Stir to combine and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes. Serve.
Recipes reprinted from XI’AN FAMOUS FOODS: THE CUISINE OF WESTERN CHINA, FROM NEW YORK'S FAVORITE NOODLE SHOP by Jason Wang with Jessica Chou. Photography by Jenny Huang. Published by ABRAMS.