Joy Zhang's Mother's Shanghainese Stir-Fry

By Marcus Samuelsson |


A 25 year-old free-lance photographer, home-chef and writer from Dallas, Texas, Joy Zhang finds inspiration for her photography and recipes through music, art and nature. Her work has been featured on Elle Girl Korea, Gourmet Live, Food Gakwer and Tastespotting. Join her culinary adventures through her kitchen and discover fresh, simple and delicious recipes over at

I was about 2 years old when my family moved to America and as a result I never had any recollection of my home. I struggled with this identity crisis: while my family was deeply rooted in everything Chinese, everything I ever really knew was American. My mother would try to paint me pictures through stories, trying to pour everything she could into me hoping I would always remember Shanghai as my first home, her home, my family’s home. She’d even refuse to speak to me if I didn’t speak Chinese – ” Jiang zhong weng, ting bu dong! Speak Chinese, I don’t understand!” But one of my favorite ways she’d connect me back to my roots was through food.

Growing up, all I ever ate was Chinese food-it’s all I’ve ever known. I remember begging her to make me spaghetti and meatballs once because that’s what all those American families on TV ate. She would smugly reply – “Hmph spaghetti and meatball? Why you want meatball when mommy make homemade dumplings, you crazy?” She’d always tell me stories about the vegetables that grew in China, how every morning she’d go to the open market early in the mornings to pick the best produce and fresh eggs and milk.

Though things were different here, she always made the best with what she had. She’d find the local Chinese market and buy her main ingredients – soy sauce, ginger, white pepper, Shao Xiang cooking wine; then there was the weird stuff – black fungus, bamboo thousand year old duck eggs. One of her favorites was fresh pea shoots, one of the few vegetables that grew in China that she was able to find. She would flash fry them with a little ginger and garlic bringing out the sweet earthiness of the pea shoot leaves with just the right touch of smokiness from the wok.


This year Collin and I started our garden and we planted a few rows of snow peas. I figured in celebration of Spring I wanted a colorful and healthy dish to nurture our bodies after a long and cold winter. My mother always believed we should not eat only for pleasure but for nourishment in order to maintain a healthy body, spirit and mind. This recipe is packed with nutritious ingredients like black mushrooms and bamboo, which contains high levels of iron, fiber and antioxidants that help strengthen our immune systems.

My mother has been living in Shanghai since retiring last October. She’s happy to be home – back with her family, back to her world, back to where she’s always belonged. She continues to paint pictures for me through her words keeping me deeply rooted to my first home always. Though my favorite chef may not be by my side, over the years through the hundreds of dishes she made for me every day as a child remains close to my heart. I hope you enjoy experiencing a part of my home through the flavors and ingredients, though mother may be thousands of miles away any time I make this I feel as if I’m right there with her.

Prep Details

Servings: 2

Prep time: 20 mins

Total time: 30 mins


1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 carrot, peeled, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced

1/3 cup snow peas

1 cup snow pea leaves, shoots

1/2 cup bamboo, cut into matchsticks (you can buy bamboo already cut in a can at Asian markets)

1/2 cup black ear mushrooms, rehydrated (simply soak dry fungus overnight)

1 tbsp cooking wine

1/4 cup chicken stock

2 tsp corn starch

Salt, to taste

Pinch of white pepper


Photos: Joy Zhang

Heat oil in wok or cast iron skillet over high heat, when oil is slightly smoking add the ginger and garlic and reduce heat to medium high, sautee until fragrant about 1 minute. Add vegetables and make sure all surfaces are evenly coated with oil, cooking for 1 minute until pea leaves soften. Mix the chicken stock with cornstarch and set aside. Add the cooking wine and cook until dry, about 1 minute. Add the chicken cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened. Taste with salt, ( I added 1/2 teaspoon, I would recommend not to exceed 1 teaspoon) and finish with a pinch of white pepper. Serve immediately with steamed rice.