In Simple Asian Meals, Simonds presents over 100 recipes for accessible Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese specialties—packed with fresh, seasonal ingredients and health-giving benefits from immune support to ease of digestion to cholesterol reduction. Almost all her dishes require only one pot to prepare, and to make meal preparation as manageable as possible, she also provides freezing and storing techniques, recipe variations for convenience and personal taste, and lists of basic staples readers should always keep on hand.
Colorful, comprehensive, and informed by Simonds's own culinary travels and memorable moments in Asia, Simple Asian Meals is every home chef's guide to creating exquisitely flavored Asian cuisine quickly and effortlessly.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
HEARTY SOUP POTS
I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT of soups as nurturing and comforting, even as a child. But it wasn't until I lived in Asia that I was introduced to the extraordinary diversity and exciting nuances of the flavors and textures of Asian soups--not to mention their numerous health-giving benefits. Furthermore, with minimal fuss and some staple ingredients, soups can provide infinite pleasure and a filling meal-in-one dish.
Years ago, at a little cooking school I attended in Taipei, the Chinese master chefs taught me the more refined and elaborate soups of Chinese haute cuisine (including shark's fin and bird's nest). But, as I discovered when I cooked the nightly dinner meal or Sunday lunch with my surrogate Chinese mother, it was the simpler, seasonal, home-style soups--like Home- Style Chicken Ginger Soup with Bok Choy and Sumptuous Hot and Sour Vegetable Soup--that were so satisfying and memorable.
Since I was a student with limited means, my schoolmates and I would frequent the inexpensive noodle stalls that lined the street where I studied Mandarin. One of our favorite haunts--especially during the raw, cold winter of my first year in Taipei--was Earl's Noodles, where Chef Chang cooked an intoxicatingly delicious bowl of Cinnamon Beef Noodles. Nothing comforted me more when I was hungry, homesick, or chilled to the bone than a large bowl of those sumptuous noodles in broth, topped with pieces of tender, soy-braised meat and some crisp-tender green vegetables. To this day, it is equally appealing, and my husband and son have also become big fans.
Years later, when my busy schedule limited my prep time for family meals, I discovered that many of the soup recipes I had gathered while traveling in Asia could be easily streamlined and adapted without sacrificing their sumptuous flavors. In this chapter, I present a number of my tried-and-true favorites. Most are single-dish meals by themselves.
Because I traveled extensively throughout Asia, there are soups from many different countries: While I was writing a book on noodles (and traveling extensively through Japan), my husband and I have become addicted to the nutty flavor of buckwheat (or soba) noodles in dashi, an enticingly smoky stock. Forays to Vietnam introduced me to Saigon-style pho, a celebrated soup made with star anise and cinnamon-flavored chicken cooked in broth with rice noodles; Soothing Saigon-Style Chicken Noodle Soup is my version of this hearty soup. Vietnam also introduced me to Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup seasoned with lemongrass, lime juice, and crushed chile pepper. Both soups are sprinkled with herbs like cilantro, basil, and chopped scallions at the last moment, adding an irresistible burst of freshness.
My surrogate Chinese mother and the Chinese chefs I studied under always insisted that a good soup had to be made with a stock from scratch, and, for many years, this was my mantra as well. But that was before supermarkets started offering good-quality organic and free-range broths in cartons. Infusing the broth briefly with several slices of smashed fresh ginger and a bit of rice wine (or sake) transforms it into a surprisingly delicious, homemade-tasting base. Other shortcuts include using peeled garlic, precut vegetables, and a food processor to chop and slice ingredients.
This chapter offers a selection of my favorite Asian soups. Some are old favorites; others are new creations. The majority of the recipes are meal- in-one noodle pots, and the rest may be served with crusty bread or whole grains to round out the meal. Variations are offered after most recipes, but don't be afraid to improvise, using what's available or seasonal. I like to make big pots of the basic stock and freeze it in batches. Once defrosted and heated and with the addition of freshly cooked vegetables, meat or seafood, and noodles, they become a comforting and nourishing meal in minutes.
EFFORTLESS CHINESE CHICKEN STOCK
MAKES 6 CUPS
Making soup used to be a labor of love, but with the introduction of organic and free-range broths in the supermarket, the labor is not a necessity. It takes only minutes to doctor these flavorful store-bought stocks with a bit of fresh ginger and rice wine to make them taste uncannily like they have been cooking for hours.
1 carton (1 quart) store-bought chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup rice wine or sake
6 slices fresh ginger about the size of a quarter, smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife or cleaver
Combine the chicken broth, water, rice wine, and ginger in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to fish out the ginger and discard.
Chicken broth, particularly when it's made with an organic or natural (hormone-free) chicken, is an ideal medium for numerous soups. Chicken is warming and acts as a qi (or energy) tonic. The broth also aids digestion.
BASIC JAPANESE STOCK (DASHI)
MAKES ABOUT 8 CUPS
Dashi is a simple stock that forms the base of many Japanese soups. The flavor is enticingly smoky and it takes only minutes to prepare. The two key ingredients, kelp and bonito shavings, are available in the international section of most supermarkets and health food stores, and in Asian markets. Both ingredients will keep indefinitely in the pantry when wrapped tightly in plastic.
One 4-inch square kelp (kombu), wiped clean with a damp cloth
8 cups water
1/2 cup (about 6 grams) dried bonito flakes
1. Place the kelp and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then immediately remove the kelp with tongs. Set aside for another use or discard.
2. Add the bonito flakes, stir well, and remove the pot from the heat. Let the flakes settle to the bottom of the pot (about 1 minute), then pour the stock through a fine strainer or a coarse strainer lined with cheesecloth.
In addition to providing numerous minerals, vitamins, and amino acids, seaweeds (such as kelp) are an excellent source of iodine, calcium, and iron. Kombu, a member of the kelp family, provides moisture in the body and improves kidney function.
SUMPTUOUS HOT AND SOUR VEGETABLE SOUP
6 TO 8 SERVINGS
Nothing could be more satisfying or warming than a bowl of hot and sour soup. Traditionally, the soup is made with pork, but I prefer to use chicken. Buy preshredded vegetables to save time, and add any leftover vegetables you may have on hand. This soup is one of those dishes that increases in flavor when reheated.
1 small head Napa cabbage (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 large leeks (about 1 pound), white and light green parts only, sliced lengthwise, rinsed, and drained
1 1/2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
2 1/2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
6 to 8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice wine or sake
14 ounces very firm tofu, halved crosswise and each half cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
8 cups or 2 cartons (32 ounces each) chicken or vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
4 1/2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce, or more to taste
3 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1. Cut away the stem of the cabbage and discard. Cut the cabbage lengthwise in half, then cut each half lengthwise in half again. Cut each quarter into 1 1/2-inch sections, separating the leafy sections from the stem pieces, and place in a bowl. Cut each leek half into thin slices, about 1/4 inch thick. Prepare all the remaining ingredients and place near the stove.
2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until hot, about 25 seconds. Add the leeks and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the tougher sections of the cabbage and the mushrooms and toss lightly for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly softened.
3. Add the rice wine, partially cover, and reduce the heat slightly. Cook for about 5 minutes, until tender and dry. Add the leafier sections of the cabbage, the tofu slices, and the broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Slowly add the cornstarch and water mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Cook over medium-high heat until the broth has thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. The soup should have the consistency of heavy cream. Stir in the black vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and black pepper; taste for seasoning, adding more soy sauce if necessary. Turn off the heat and slowly add the egg, pouring it in a thin stream around the circumference of the pot. Stir the soup several times. Ladle the hot soup into bowls, and serve immediately.
VARIATIONS: Add 1 cup shredded carrots for extra color and 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes for additional spiciness.
Substitute 6 to 8 dried black mushrooms or 1 1/4 ounces dried porcini mushrooms for the fresh shiitakes. Rinse and soften in hot water to cover, reserving the broth. (You can extend the broth with additional water and use in place of vegetable broth or add to chicken broth for extra flavor.) Trim the mushroom stems or tough ends, discard, and use the caps as above.
Shiitake mushrooms have a smoky, meaty flavor and are believed to strengthen the immune system and prevent tumors. They may also prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One cannot truly understand the wonder that is Asian food until they have had it homemade. There is something about the complexity of flavors and smells that is lost in most dining experiences. Nina Simonds offers simple and yet delicious alternatives to eating out. Her meals are easy enough for the least experienced cook. The book is filled with flavors that inspire a handful of recipes.I like that she doesn¿t offer tons of recipes but instead offers ways to alter the recipes she has listed. Cooking becomes comfortable when we are invited to experiment. I loved that she encouraged spices and that most of her flavors are easily attainable for those in the United States.She finishes the book with Asian inspired desserts that complete the simple design. They are not overly sweet and most require little time to make them (she offers a recipe to make your own ice cream bon bons ¿ I know what I am making this summer).The last thing she did that I liked was dot the book with little trivia about the nutrition of the foods and Chinese medicine. It completed the whole picture of what the dish would be like for me. My ARC was in black and white which made me a little sad because the book is filled with beautiful pictures that could only get better in color.