East of Asia

Asian cuisine has downright skyrocketed. We simply love it. We eat it at ethnic restaurants, pick up a frozen Asian dinner from the market or shop for the ingredients at one of the many specialty grocery stores springing up these days. It's new, it's trendy, but best of all, it's perceived as healthier than many other types of global cuisines.

Asian dishes are being touted by nutritionists who point out that America's biggest health problems – heart disease, obesity and cancer – are seen less often in Asian countries.

And to keep to the new USDA Dietary Guidelines, we should follow the Asian tradition. That is, emphasize vegetables and whole grains, with no more than 10 percent of the dinner plate containing protein – and lean protein at that, such as soy, chicken or fish. Forget that chunk of red meat accompanied by token veggies and a mound of starch. When dining out, add more vegetables and take half of that hefty meal home for another day.

There are really three main categories of Asian cuisine. Some ingredients may overlap, but they roughly represent the main types of traditional Asian cooking.

The southwest style includes foods from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Burma. Nan and chapati (breads) are staples; and curry, lamb, beans, ghee (a butter oil), hot peppers, cloves and other heavy spices are typical ingredients. Because of Hinduism's teachings, cows are used only for milk, not for meat. Curries are based on yogurt.

The northeast tradition comes from China, Korea and Japan. Chinese, the most popular, is centered on particular regions, but the basic techniques are stir-frying and steaming. Dishes from the cold north are heavy on oil, vinegar and garlic, while dishes from the warmer south emphasize fresh vegetables and slightly sweeter dishes.

In Korea, much of the traditional dishes are centered on grilling and sautéing. Seasonings include hot chili spices, and kimchee, a pungent condiment of fermented vegetables, such as cabbage and turnips, is served at almost every meal.

Many ingredients in Japanese cooking are deep-fried, as in tempura, or rely on raw foods, as in sushi. A wide variety of the latter is available in supermarkets.

The southeast style includes Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia. The foods are delicate, aromatic and lightly prepared using citrus juices, herbs such as cilantro, basil and mint, lemon grass and tamarind. Curries in this area are generally based on coconut milk.

In addition to the popularity of Asian foods, the wok has become a standard cooking utensil in many American households. (Traditional Asian homes did not have the resources to buy several pans for different types of cooking. The wok's rounded bottom provides a range of cooking temperatures, all in one pan.)

All ingredients for the collection of Asian recipes below are available in supermarkets or ethnic grocery stores.

Thai Tropical Salad
1/2 small pineapple, peeled, cored and diced
1 mango, peeled, seeded and diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 small red onion, chopped
2 Tbsps. chopped cilantro
4 Tbsps. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
salt to taste
cabbage or romaine leaves
1/3 cup peanuts

In a bowl, combine the pineapple, mango, cucumber, onion and cilantro.

In a cup or small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sugar and cayenne pepper. Mix well. Season to taste with salt.

Pour over pineapple mixture; toss well.

Serve chilled in cabbage or romaine lined bowl. Garnish with peanuts.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 93; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 13 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 1 mg.

Chicken-Coconut Soup

A delicately seasoned soup inspired by Dorothy Huang, renowned Chinese cooking teacher. For a complete meal, add nan and chapati, along with a green salad.

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1 Tbsp. corn starch
3 Tbsps. dry sherry (kosher)
3 Tbsps. corn oil
1 tsp. chili oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
3 Tbsps. grated ginger
(grated on large side of grater)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 can (13.5 oz.) lite coconut milk (pareve)
1 can (15 oz.) straw mushrooms, drained
4 Tbsps. lime juice
salt to taste
cilantro leaves to garnish

Place chicken in a shallow dish. Add the soy sauce, cornstarch and sherry. Toss well. Marinate for 15 to 30 minutes.

In a wok or deep nonstick saucepan, heat the oils over high heat. Add the shallots and ginger. Stir for a few seconds.

Add the chicken, and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, coconut milk and straw mushrooms. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook 10 minutes longer or until chicken is opaque and cooked.

Stir in the lime juice. Season with salt to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 171; protein, 16 g; carbohydrates, 4 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 33 mg; sodium, 455 mg.

Pan-fried Tofu
With Sesame Dressing
1/3 cup bottled sesame dressing
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 lb. firm tofu, drained
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
6 cups shredded lettuce
2 Tbsps. toasted sesame seeds
1 red bell pepper, seeded, thinly sliced
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Whisk together the sesame dressing and rice vinegar. Set aside.

Pat the tofu dry with paper towels and cut into 1-inch cubes. Heat the oils in a large, preferably nonstick skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the tofu. Pan-fry until golden-brown on all sides.

Divide shredded lettuce evenly onto

4 plates. Top with fried tofu. Spoon sesame dressing over top.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Garnish with red pepper and green onion.

Makes 4 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 272; protein, 13 g; carbohydrates, 5 g; fat, 24 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 148 mg.

Lamb Noodle Salad
With Peanuts
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
3 Tbsps. sesame oil, divided
3 Tbsps. rice vinegar
2 Tbsps. lite soy sauce
2 Tbsps. light-brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups cooked linguini
3 Tbsps. peanut oil, divided
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 lb. lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut in 1/4-inch pieces
6 cups baby spinach leaves
3 cups frozen snow peas, thawed
1 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

In a medium bowl, combine the green onions, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and salt.

Toss the linguini with remaining sesame oil. Set aside.

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and stir for 10 seconds. Add lamb, stirring until all pinkness disappears, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Keep warm. Wipe out skillet.

Add remaining peanut oil and heat over a medium heat. Add the linguini and green-onion mixture, stirring until sauce is absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Add the spinach, snow peas and carrots. Stir-fry until spinach is just wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add peanuts, toss and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 436; protein, 17 g; carbohydrates, 19 g; fat, 33 g; cholesterol, 54 mg; sodium, 446 mg.

Frozen Pumpkin and Sweet Corn Custard
This is a silky Malaysian dessert from Elizabeth Rozin's Crossroads Cooking.
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup canned cream-style corn
1/2 cup canned pumpkin purée
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup toasted shredded coconut

In the top of a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks lightly, then add the sugar and corn and mix well. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, for 7 to 10 minutes until slightly thickened and smooth.

Do not overcook – or you will get scrambled eggs!

Remove from heat. Stir in pumpkin, vanilla and salt. Cool completely.

Whip the cream until stiff. Gently fold into the cooled custard. Line a cupcake pan with foil liners. Spoon evenly into the cups. Sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze 3 to 4 hours, until hardened. Remove from freezer 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Vietnamese Coffee

To make authentic Vietnamese coffee, use a very dark French roast and brew it in a cone-shaped filter that sits on top of the cup to brew it by the slow-drip method. You'll find these filters in Asian stores, but they are also available in supermarkets, and are usually made by Melitta. Line the basket with paper liners before use – the brown, unstarched ones are best

1/2 cup dark French roast coffee,
medium grind
ground cinnamon
5 Tbsps. condensed milk
(not evaporated milk)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 cups crushed ice

Pour 2 1/4 tablespoons of condensed milk in each of 2 coffee mugs.

Set a paper lined filter on top of each mug.

Place 1/2 cup coffee grinds and a pinch of cinnamon in each. Pour 1/4 cup boiling water over.

Let the grounds expand for a minute or two. Add enough boiling water to come to the top of the filter rims.

When water is completely through the filter, stir well, so that the condensed milk is blended throughout.

Fill two tall, heat-proof glasses with ice. Pour the coffee over.

Serve with tall spoons.

Makes 2 servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 153; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 26 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 16 mg; sodium, 61 mg. u

Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. "Mackerel at Midnight" is the title of her latest book. Reach her at: www.kosherfoodconsultants.com.



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