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Asian cuisine makes for tasty meals

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Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 9:07 am

When I’m trying to plan meals for the week, it can be challenging to have ingredients on hand that adapt easily to sudden menu changes when the weather does an about-face.

I have found that the various Asian cuisines are excellent resources for tasty meals that suit the transition from late spring into summer. Most dishes are light yet satisfying, especially when served with rice and/or noodles. Additionally, they take advantage of so many of the vegetables that are either available at this year’s Farmer’s Market or beginning to emerge from our own gardens. Once you’ve gotten the spirit of the dish, you can change it up to suit your own taste and apply appropriate substitutions, depending on your personal preferences and whatever you might have that’s fresh.

This particularly applies to Vietnamese recipes; instead of blending flavors and textures, in most cases, the idea is to layer flavors and let each diner add condiments and fresh herbs themselves. It can take some getting used to but will reward you with incredibly delicious combinations that are both unusual and somehow familiar at the same time. Any leftovers make happy lunches, too, especially if you brown-bag.

There are many ways to use the numerous flavors: Nuoc Cham (a basic dipping sauce) is amazing with potstickers; fried shallots (I use green onions instead) and the oil left over are used individually as condiments. Pork slices, marinated briefly and grilled over charcoal, stops all conversation. Salad Rolls, filled with pork, shrimp, rice noodles, bean sprouts and fresh herbs and dipped in a hoisin-coconut milk sauce are too good to describe. Just get some. And while you are at it, get a Saigon Crepe. You can thank me later. If you are already familiar with Vietnamese food, you know and love Pho — more or less, the Vietnamese national dish. If you’ve never tried Vietnamese food (Lodi has several wonderful restaurants), please give it a try. It just may turn out to be your new favorite food group!

The following is adapted from Mai Pham’s inspirational cookbook, “Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table”. Most of the ingredients listed are available locally; if you cannot find Vietnamese coriander, you may use cilantro and/or Asian basil to taste. It is best to have everything ready before starting.

Curry noodle soup with chicken

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chili paste

3 tablespoons curry powder, Vietnamese brand if possible

1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken, sliced in bite-sized pieces

1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk

4 cups chicken stock (homemade is best)

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

3 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup Vietnamese coriander (or a mixture of cilantro and Thai basil, to taste)

1 cup shredded romaine (or other tender-crisp greens such as mustard or kale; not iceberg)

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

1 pound rice stick noodles, cooked 4-5 minutes and drained

2 green onions, sliced thinly

1 lime, cut into 4 wedges; 4 Thai bird chilies or 2 serrano chilies, sliced thinly (optional)

Heat oil in medium pot over moderate heat. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add chili paste, curry powder and chicken and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add coconut milk, chicken stock, turmeric, fish sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Divide the coriander (or herb mixture), lettuce or greens, and bean sprouts among four preheated soup bowls. Divide the noodles among the bowls. Bring the curry base to a rolling boil, then immediately ladle over noodles. Garnish each bowl with cilantro and green onion slices. Serve immediately with lime wedges and optional chili rings on the side.

Serves 4; even better the next day if broth is stored separately from serving bowl ingredients.

Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.

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