The omelet as most Americans know it is a French import. But cooks the world over have combined whipped eggs with cooked ingredients since at least the ancient Persians. And often, "omelets" from other cultures are a lot less fussy than the filled and folded bistro classic.
Take egg foo young, for instance. It may call to mind the deep-fried, heavily sauced egg dish offered in Chinese-American restaurants, but in China, Cantonese cooks use a lot less oil and a lot more crispy vegetables. In this recipe from our book "Cook What You Have," which draws on pantry staples to assemble easy, weeknight meals, we take the Cantonese path for veggie-packed omelets. It happens to be a great way to use up leftover vegetables.
We call for cabbage, onion and bell pepper, but bean sprouts, mushrooms and scallions also are good choices; you'll need a total of about 4 cups raw vegetables. The vegetables are stir-fried to give them a head start, but are cooked only until crisp-tender. A bit of cornstarch mixed into the eggs helps bind the mixture together to form pancake-sized patties in the skillet.
To boost the protein, stir in some chopped cooked shrimp, pork or chicken. A quick sriracha mayonnaise served alongside makes a spicier, more complex substitution than the soy sauce-heavy gravy normally slathered on egg foo young.
And for a fun twist, make St. Paul sandwiches, a St. Louis favorite. Just slather the Sriracha mayo on white bread, then tuck the omelet, lettuce, tomato and pickles inside.
Chinese-style vegetable omelets
Start to finish: 40 minutes (30 minutes active)
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Sriracha OR chili-garlic sauce
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Kosher salt and ground white OR black pepper
3½ tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1 small yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
½ medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and Sriracha; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, soy sauce, cornstarch, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper; set aside.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1½ tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the cabbage, onion, bell pepper, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk the egg mixture to recombine, then add the hot vegetables and, using a silicone spatula, stir until well combined. Wipe out the skillet.
In the same skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil until shimmering. Drop two heaping ½-cup portions of the egg-vegetable mixture into the skillet, spacing them on opposite sides of the pan. Using the spatula, spread each portion into a 4- to 5-inch round; if they spread into an oval shape, don't worry, just keep them separated. Cook until the edges start to brown and puff and the omelets are nicely browned on the bottoms, about three minutes. Using a wide spatula, flip the omelets and cook, reducing the heat as needed if the omelets are cooking too quickly, until golden brown on the second sides, about another two minutes. Transfer to a large plate.
Cook the remaining two omelets in the same way using the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Serve with the Sriracha mayo.
Optional garnish: Toasted sesame oil or thinly sliced scallions or both.