The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
CULINARY DELIGHTS. Wendy Chan and Grace Niwa’s New Asian Cuisine is full of enticing recipes. Pictured are Asian Wraps, a recipe created by Ritsuo Tsuchida of Blowfish Sushi to Die For in San Francisco, California.
From The Asian Reporter, V18, #22 (June 3, 2008), page 13 & 16.
Celebrity chefs inspire healthy Asian cooking at home
New Asian Cuisine: Fabulous Recipes from Celebrity Chefs
By Wendy Chan and Grace Niwa
International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, 2006
Paperback, 287 pages, $14.95
By Pamela Ellgen
When authors Wendy Chan and Grace Niwa began working on New Asian Cuisine they envisioned a book that would promote Asian cooking for both its exciting flavors and its health benefits. What started as a handful of recognized Asian chefs grew exponentially as chefs from around the world added their culinary sensibilities for a cookbook overflowing with enticing recipes.
The book opens with a picture of the new food pyramid and shows how an Asian diet fulfills these nutritional guidelines. Chan and Niwa write, "The Traditional Healthy Asian Diet Pyramid stresses the superior nutrients of a plant-based diet and promotes a lifestyle of moderation in eating combined with regular exercise." The focus on health might dissuade some die-hard foodies, but New Asian Cuisine will please both the health conscious and the discerning palate.
Selecting only a few recipes to sample from the collection of well over 200 was a challenge. With so many chefs contributing to the project, each recipe has a unique flair and enticing name such as Shichimi Crusted Lamb Loin, Ginger, Lemon Grass Jus, Corn, and Kabocha Sauce.
Many of the recipes seemed to draw from more than one cultural tradition as well. Although this lent a fascinating element to the food, it made buying groceries another hurdle.
"Is this Thai food you’re cooking? Or Vietnamese?" the grocer at Saigon Market asked as he helped me find the ingredients for the chosen starter, French Bean and Apple Salad with Crème Fraiche, Toasted Cumin, and Carpaccio of Tomato. Neither, it turned out. We had an easier time with the entree, Red Thai Curry Shrimp with Golden Pineapple and Steamed Jasmine Rice.
After combing a few grocery stores, I invited fellow Asian-food enthusiasts over to lend a hand and their critique. We began with the bean and apple salad, created by Vikram Garg, chef at IndeBleu restaurant in Washington, D.C. Evolving from traditional Indian flavors, the recipe combines a peculiar variety of ingredients: French beans, Granny Smith apples, cumin, tarragon, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan shavings.
Despite, or rather because of, the esoteric combination of ingredients, the salad was bright and interesting, far from the typical "greens and dressing" found on many menus. The parmesan shavings rounded out the acidity of the vinegar and tomatoes, creating a pleasant balance of flavors. And, with so many vegetables present, it offered a healthy beginning to our meal.
The entree featured a familiar list of Thai ingredients: lemongrass, red chilies, kaffir lime leaves, and coconut milk. However, I made a mistake when reading the directions and purchased store-bought curry paste instead of making it. The recipe said to simmer two cups of curry paste with coconut milk, palm sugar, and fish sauce for 45 minutes. After half an hour, I realized my blunder. A little improvisation helped here, and we added the ingredients missing from the store-bought paste.
Although we didn’t get the curry shrimp with pineapple and jasmine rice on the table until nearly 8:00pm, it was worth every minute. And, thanks to my mistake with the curry paste, the dish was spicy and flavorful.
But, ultimately, it wasn’t what Cliff Wharton, chef at TenPenh restaurant (also in Washington, D.C.), had in mind. So on another night I re-created the dish following the instructions carefully. To my surprise, it was bland and uninteresting in comparison with my modified version. Although the recipe serves as a fantastic base for experimentation, I would have been disappointed if I had ordered this at Wharton’s restaurant.
My mistake with the curry illustrates one of the shortcomings of this cookbook: unclear directions. One recipe I considered making, "Chocolate Beignets with Caramelized Bananas and Vanilla Ice Cream," was so confusing that after reading and rereading the instructions, I opted to just skip dessert altogether.
Another disappointment was the photography. Many cookbooks could grace coffee tables with their lavish attention to detail in the artwork. But the pictures in New Asian Cuisine don’t make the coffee table. They don’t even make my mouth water. But for those who buy cookbooks strictly for the recipes — and that is a top-shelf reason — there are an abundance of exciting ones here.
Ultimately, I would keep New Asian Cuisine in my cooking library for inspiring, healthy Asian food with a modern twist. However, the next time I cook from it, I will read the directions a few more times and not experiment on my dinner guests.
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French Bean and Apple Salad with Crème Fraiche,
Vikram Garg, IndeBleu, Washington, D.C.
French Bean and Apple Salad: String French beans and cut 2 inches long. Cook in salted water until soft and refresh. Peel apple and cut similar size to beans. Toss with lemon juice. Combine crème fraiche, salt, crushed pepper, and finely chopped shallots to make a dressing. Dress apple and beans with the dressing. Clean assorted lettuce and keep chilled.
Carpaccio: Choose firm vine-ripe tomatoes and slice very thin.
Carpaccio Dressing: Shred basil and tarragon and chop shallots. Combine with balsamic vinegar, salt, sugar, and crushed pepper. Whisk in olive oil.
Garnish: Broil cumin seeds in a pan until golden brown. Remove and roughly crush.
Plating: Place lettuce on plate. Put French bean and apple salad over bed of lettuce. Spread tomato carpaccio over salad. Garnish with crushed cumin seeds. Finish with freshly shaved parmesan and crystal sea salt.
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