Classic Chinese Cuisine right at home

It’s hard to know where to start singing the praises of Nina Simonds, who has gone such a long way toward bringing Chinese cooking into the American home that Newsweek magazine named her one of “America’s Top 25 Asia Hands.”

She has been studying Chinese language, culture and food for nearly 30 years, and has traveled extensively in mainland China and other parts of Asia.

Any student of Chinese food should own her “Classic Chinese Cuisine.” Anyone interested in the Asian practice of linking food to health should own “A Spoonful of Ginger,” one of her most recent books. And you don’t have to be an Asia hand to enjoy “Asian Noodles” or her latest offering, “Asian Wraps.”

“Asian Wraps” is a compendium of tasty recipes that includes classics such as Mu Shu Shrimp and contemporary recipes such as Seared Steak with Wild Mushrooms. Don’t be daunted by the long lists of ingredients. Once you have stocked the basics (rice wine, Asian chili paste and the like) the dishes go together relatively quickly, and the results are stunning.

Simonds uses all sorts of wraps in these recipes: traditional Chinese eggroll, dumpling and wonton skins; breads such as pita, lavash and tortillas; and leaves of romaine lettuce, cabbage and radicchio. She fills them all with tasty and delicious mixtures. The best part is that you get to eat with your hands.

Tandoori Chicken with Mango Chutney

For the chutney:

5 cloves garlic, peeled

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

2 small, fresh red chili peppers, seeds removed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons corn or safflower oil

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise pods

3 green, unripe mangoes (about 3 pounds, total), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar, or more, if mangoes are very sour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

2 tablespoons raisins

For the marinade:

1-1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1-1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin

1-1/4 teaspoons dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For finishing the dish:

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 medium head romaine lettuce, leaves separated and pressed to flatten

6 to 12 8-inch flour tortillas

Turn on the motor of a food processor or blender. While the machine is running, add the garlic, ginger, chilies, cumin, coriander and turmeric, in that order, and process until a smooth paste forms, adding a little of the corn or safflower oil if needed.

Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat, add the remaining oil and heat until hot. Add the spice paste and the cinnamon and anise and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until very fragrant, 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the mangoes. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and raisins and add to the pot. Reduce heat to low and cook until mangoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until needed. (You can make this weeks ahead; it will keep up to a month, well-covered, in the refrigerator.)

To make the marinade: Combine all the marinade ingredients and stir well.

Put the chicken in a bowl. Lightly prick the meat with a fork, then pour the marinade over it. Toss to coat, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let marinate in the refrigerator at least several hours or overnight if possible.

Prepare a fire for grilling, or heat a large, non-stick skillet over high heat until very hot. If grilling, oil the grill rack and place it 3 inches over the coals, arranging the chicken on the rack. Cover and grill until cooked through, 8 to 9 minutes per side. If using a skillet, sear the chicken until crispy brown and cooked through, 8 to 12 minutes per side, turning once. Remove, let cool slightly, and cut crosswise into thin slices.

To serve, remove the star anise and the cinnamon stick from the chutney, place a lettuce leaf on a tortilla, spoon on some chicken and mango chutney, roll up and eat with your hands. If you want very well-stuffed wraps, use six tortillas and serve one per person. If you like to make thinner ones, use 12 tortillas and serve two per person. Yield: 6 servings.

— Recipe from “Asian Wraps,” by Nina Simonds (William Morrow, 2000)

Hot-And-Sour Scallops with Broccoli

For the hot-and-sour sauce:

1 cup chicken broth or water

3-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2-1/2 tablespoons rice wine or sake

1-1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the marinade:

3 tablespoons rice wine or sake

1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

To finish the dish:

1-1/2 pounds sea scallops, rinsed, drained, patted dry and, if very thick, sliced horizontally in half

3 quarts water

1 head Chinese (Napa) cabbage, leaves separated and stems trimmed

1 pound broccoli, florets separated, stalks trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

1-1/2 tablespoons safflower or corn oil

1 heaping teaspoon hot chili paste

2-1/2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into thin strips

Make the hot-and-sour sauce by combining the sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Mix together the marinade ingredients and pour over the scallops in a bowl, tossing to coat. Set aside.

Bring the 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the cabbage leaves and blanch for 4 seconds. Remove with a handled strainer and refresh under cold running water. Drain and arrange around the edges of a serving plate.

With water still boiling, add the broccoli. Cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Remove with a handled strainer. Refresh under cold running water, drain, and set aside.

Make sure the water is still boiling. Add the scallops and cook until slightly undercooked, about 1-1/2 minutes. Remove with a handled strainer and drain well.

Heat a wok or a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add the oil and heat about 20 seconds. Add the chili paste, garlic and red onion and stir-fry over medium-high heat until the onion starts to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the hot-and-sour sauce and cook, stirring to prevent lumps, until thickened. Add the scallops and broccoli, and cook, stirring, until the scallops are cooked through and broccoli is warm, 1 to 2 minutes.

Transfer the scallop mixture to the serving platter. To eat, spoon some onto a cabbage leaf, fold over, roll up, and tuck in the edges. Eat with your fingers. Yield: 6 servings.

— Recipe from “Asian Wraps,” by Nina Simonds (William Morrow, 2000)

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