Book offers simple Asian cooking

Simple Asian Meals cookbook for Side Dish coulmn
Simple Asian Meals cookbook for Side Dish coulmn

Today the Food section offers stories about Irish and Italian celebrations — so, I decided to review an attractive cookbook celebrating … Asian-inspired foods. Well, writing about a book which looks at Pan-Asian dishes does fit into a general ethnic theme.

Award-winning author Nina Simonds is considered a leading American authority on Chinese cooking, but in her latest cookbook, “Simple Asian Meals: Irresistibly Satisfying and Healthy Dishes for the Busy Cook” (Rodale Books, hardcover, $29.99), she also includes recipes reflecting Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian and Indian influences.

The 236-page cookbook is “all about convenience, enjoyment, and health,” she writes. She’s devised the recipes “to be as easy, flavorful, fast, and accessible as possible” to demonstrate “cooking Asian food does not need to be labor intensive, nor does it require special shopping trips.”

As a 19-year-old, Simonds traveled to Taiwan to study about Chinese food, language and culture. Over the years, she underwent a metamorphosis in how she looks at Chinese cuisine, she writes. She went from being inspired by China’s classic banquet dishes to being taken with fresh, appealing, healthful, home-style food. Over the years she’s also traveled to countries all over Asia, so her repertoire has expanded.

“Simple Asian Meals” divides its recipes into eight chapters, from Hearty Soup Pots to Irresistible Sweets. After many of the recipes, Simonds highlights an ingredient by offering its health-giving properties according to scientific research and traditional Chinese medicine. However, none of the recipes include a nutritional breakdown. She does suggest ingredient variations for some recipes.

Among recipes are Delicate Shrimp and Asparagus in Chicken Broth, Soothing Saigon-Style Chicken Noodle Soup (or Pho, pronounced “fa”), Easy Basil Chicken Salad With Soba, Lemony Cilantro Chicken With Swiss Chard, spicy Sichuan-Style Green Beans, Five-Spice Pork Tenderloin, Spicy Hoisin Lamb Kebabs Wtih Multi-Colored Peppers and Onions, Japanese Pork Stew With Scallions, Grilled Teriyaki Vegetable Skewers, Easy Coconut Rice Pudding Wtih Fresh Mangoes and Candied Ginger Snaps.

This is an attractive book illustrated with numerous color photographs of completed dishes. Simonds gives lots of tips, including ideas for what she calls spontaneous weeknight cooking.

She also suggests what to keep on hand in a basic Asian pantry and explains the “yin” and “yang” of foods. In Chinese cooking, she says, all food is divided into the categories of warming, cooling and neutral, depending on their effect on the body. Cooling, or yin, foods include fruits, vegetables and many types of seafood, while warming, or yang, foods include lamb, beef, eggs and hot spices. Among neutral foods are rice, noodles and breads.

A recipe from the book that I tried is above. It goes together easily; the most time-consuming part is slicing the vegetables. I recommend including at least a little of the optional hot chili paste.

Advocate-tested recipe

Pan-Seared Pork Chops With Multi-Colored Peppers

Serves 4 to 6. Recipe is reprinted from “Simple Asian Meals: Irresistibly Satisfying and Healthy Dishes for the Busy Cook” e_SCrt2012 by Nina Simonds. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc. Available wherever books are sold. “Pork chops are a thrifty and versatile cut of meat admirably suited for a weenight dinner. I like to braise them with peppers, onions, a generous douse of oyster sauce, and a touch of chili paste for additonal flavor.”

6 bone-in pork chops (about 31/2 lbs.), trimmed of fat and gristle

3 tbls. soy sauce

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2 medium onions, peeled

1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded

1 orange bell pepper, cored and seeded

21/2 tbls. olive or canola oil

21/2 tbls. minced fresh ginger

1 tsp. hot chili paste, optional

2 tbls. rice wine or sake

1/2 lb. snow or snap peas, ends snapped and veiny strings removed

11/2 tbls. cornstarch mixed with 3 tbls. water

Braising Mixture: (combine in a small bowl)

2 cups chicken broth, preferably low-sodium

1/4 cup rice wine or sake

51/2 tbls. oyster sauce

2 tbls. fresh lemon juice

2 tsps. sugar

1. Place the pork chops in a bowl and add the soy sauce and smashed garlic. Rub the mixture over the surface of the pork chops and let sit. Cut the onions and red and orange peppers into thin julienne strips.

2. Heat 11/2 tablespoons of the oil in a large casserole dish or Dutch oven with a lid over medium-high heat until very hot, about 30 seconds. Drain the pork chops, reserving the marinade. Cook the pork chops, in 2 batches if necesary, until golden brown, 2 or 3 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.

3. Reheat the pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until hot, about 30 seconds. Add the onions, ginger, and chili paste, if using, and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add the reserved marinade and continue cooking for another minute. Add the red and orange peppers and the rice wine, partially cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add the Braising Mixture, stir, and bring to a boil.

4. Add the pork chops and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the chops are tender and cooked through.

5. Add the snow or snap peas to the pot. Stir, cover, and bring the liquid back to a boil. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, and cook until thickened. Serve the pork chops and peppers with steamed rice, quinoa or couscous.

Variations: Substitute 31/2 tablespoons chopped fermented, salted black beans for the oyster sauce, adding them with the chopped ginger, and prepare the recipe as directed.

Use boned, skinless chicken thighs instead of the pork and prepare the recipe as directed.