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A saucy way to try innovative meals with an Asian flavor


Modern Asian Flavors: A Taste of Shanghai

By Richard Wong

Quick & Easy Vietnamese: 75 Everyday Recipes

By Nancie McDermott

Chronicle Books / 2006 / $19.95

This cookbook lives up to its name. A former Peace Corps volunteer in rural Thailand, McDermott returned smitten by Southeast Asian cuisine, and is now a food writer and cooking teacher in North Carolina.

The recipes won't overwhelm the everyday chef who lacks expertise and hours of preparation time. The book sticks with the basics of Vietnamese food -- no fusion or pan-Asian here. There are some unexpected touches, which mostly derived from the fact that in its century as a French colony, Vietnam acquired some Gallic culinary culture. Among the cross-cultural recipes here are Saigon-style sandwiches: buttered baguettes with pate, cilantro, chiles and pickled carrots. My favorite dish was tom rim, which translates to "speedy shrimp in caramel-chili sauce."

As with many of the recipes, the key was in the fish sauce, an extraordinarily rancid-smelling concoction (available at many local non-Asian supermarkets) that, once cooked, transforms the other ingredients into a dish that one might taste at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant.

Speedy Shrimp in Caramel-Chili Sauce (Tom Rim)

Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and onion and toss well. Add the shrimp and cook, tossing once, until they turn pink. Stir in the fish sauce, sugar and chili flakes, and then add water. Cook, tossing once or twice, until the shrimp are cooked through and the other ingredients combine to make a thin sauce, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the green onion and cilantro and toss well. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or warm with rice or rice noodles.

From "Quick & Easy Vietnamese"

Per serving: 146 calories, 12 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 86 milligrams cholesterol, 785 milligrams sodium.

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