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Chef Ming Tsai Makes $10 Dish His Kids Love

For NPR's "How Low Can You Go" family supper challenge, some of the nation's best cooks have each agreed to come up with a budget-conscious, delicious meal for a family of four. The hitch? The meal must cost less than $10 — and the cheaper the better.

Ming Tsai, who owns the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Mass., has a large following thanks to his Simply Ming cooking show on public television, his series of popular cookbooks and his line of cookware sold at Target.

Tsai grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and says his Chinese family cooked and ate together. That stirred his interest in cooking.

"I always was, still am and will be hungry," Tsai tells NPR's Michele Norris. "And that's why I was always in the kitchen. I would literally, at age 3 and 4 ... hang out in the kitchen hoping that one of my parents or grandparents would throw me a scrap. ... And I always wanted, just like my children now, wanted to get a knife into my hand as soon as I could, and just fell in love with the smell, the sound, the sizzle, everything that I still love about cooking."

For the NPR challenge, Tsai cooked a meal of chicken-and-corn fried rice on top of a spinach salad, because he says the variety of ingredients gives the dish a mix of temperatures and textures.

He says fried rice is very close to his heart because it was the first dish he ever cooked by himself. One day when he was 10 years old, family friends stopped by his house when his parents were away. Instead of asking the guests, "How are you?", Tsai followed Chinese custom and asked, "Are you hungry?" The couple said they were starved, so he told them he'd make fried rice.

"Well, that's great and dandy, but I've never made a fried rice before," Tsai says. "But I've seen my grandparents and parents make it, so I'm like, 'I can do it.' So I chopped my garlic and ginger. Every good Chinese household has leftover rice from the Chinese restaurant. I had scrambled the eggs, I put it all together. They loved it, and that really hooked me. And I realized then that you can make people happy through food."

Tsai says his chicken-and-corn fried rice dish, which by his calculation costs $9.68 to make, is good for you because of the protein from the eggs and chicken, and because it contains spinach.

"But most important — because of the garlic, the ginger powder and the onions — it's got great flavor," Tsai says. "My kids will eat it, and that's the litmus test if your kid will eat it."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.