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Asian cuisines blend low carbs, high taste

More and more of my friends are struggling to take off unwanted pounds. Now many, including two women who work with me testing recipes, are favoring low-carbohydrate regimens.

I love a culinary challenge, and, while thinking about this situation, it occurred to me that looking to Asian cuisines might provide an answer.

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My husband and I have just returned from a long stay in Paris, where we regularly dined in some of the city's Thai and Vietnamese cafes.

At one of these, I routinely ordered a dish of sliced grilled beef served with a tangy dipping sauce and a garnish of crisp lettuce leaves and beautiful bright green mint and cilantro sprigs. I would place a slice or two of meat on a lettuce leaf, add some herbs along with a sprinkle of peanuts, then gently roll the leaf up and dip it into the sauce.

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Flavors exploded in my mouth with each bite: salty, hot, sweet and sour accents provided by the sauce, a smoky taste from the grilled beef and finally the assertive notes of the herbs.

At home, I worked diligently to reproduce this dish, then proudly offered it as a main course for lunch to my two assistants. They fell in love with the delectable tastes and textures of this simple preparation, but pointed out that there was sugar in the sauce, something to avoid or use sparingly on their diets. But not to worry, they reassured me, the small amount was acceptable.

They suggested a salad of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, plus steamed green beans seasoned with sesame seeds and sesame oil as good side dishes for a delicious menu low in carbs.

Grilled Steaks With Thai-Style Dipping Sauce

Serves 6

SAUCE:

6 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (see Note)

6 tablespoons lime juice

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4 teaspoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

scant 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon salt

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SALAD:

1 medium head green- or red-leaf lettuce

1 bunch mint, rinsed and patted dry

1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and patted dry

vegetable oil for oiling grill rack

2 pounds boneless sirloin or New York strip steaks, trimmed of excess fat

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salt

1/2 cup toasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped

For sauce, combine fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, sugar, cilantro, mint, hot red pepper flakes and salt in a bowl and whisk well to combine. Ladle sauce into 6 small ramekins or nonreactive bowls. (Sauce can be prepared 2 hours ahead and left, uncovered, at cool room temperature.)

For salad, separate lettuce into leaves and rinse and pat dry. Arrange 5 to 6 of the leaves in an attractive bouquet on one side of a dinner plate, then top lettuce leaves with some mint and cilantro sprigs. Set a bowl of dipping sauce on the plate. Repeat to make 5 more servings.

To cook meat, oil a grill rack and arrange it 4 to 5 inches from the heat source. Prepare grill for a hot (high temperature) fire. Lightly salt meat. When grill is hot, add meat and cook until medium rare, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Remove and slice meat thinly. Divide sliced meat evenly and arrange overlapping slices on prepared dinner plates. Garnish meat with a sprinkling of nuts.

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To eat, place 1 or 2 slices of meat and some of the nuts in a lettuce leaf, then add a sprig of both mint and cilantro. Roll up and dip in the sauce.

Note: Thai fish sauce, known as nam pla, is a staple of Thai cooking. A dark, salty sauce made with fermented fish, it has an assertive scent and can be used as a condiment or as a seasoning. It is available in some supermarkets and in Asian food stores. Thai Kitchen is a brand that is available in many supermarkets.


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