'Essentials Of Asian Cuisine'

The Early Show, Asian cuisine: Fun Si L Han Jai Braised Cellophane Noodles with Shrimp and Mushrooms
CBS/The Early Show
In the last 10 years, we've seen a much wider range of Asian cuisine: Cambodian, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, or Vietnamese. It's now easier to find basic Asian ingredients at regular supermarkets.

So cookbook author Corrine Trang wants to take it to the next step, which is to help people cook Asian food at home, by making the recipes easy and accessible.

Her theory on Asian cuisine is that China is the root of all Asian cooking. She brings this theory to all of her recipes. She has taken the basic principles of China's regional kitchens to bring all the great Asian cuisines together. Trang believes that the key to Chinese cooking is three-fold.

The first key is the balance of opposites also known as yin yang. All ingredients, according to Trang, must be blended harmoniously and tasted separately while coming together on the palate.

The second key is the presence of the five principal flavors, which are: salty, bitter, sour, spicy, and sweet. These flavors must be present in every meal.

The third key involves grains. Rice, for the most part, is the meal's center and is often complemented by vegetables, seafood, poultry, and meat.

Trang believes that if Western home cooks can grasp even a little bit of these three points, then they can cook with confidence.

Her cookbook, "Essentials Of Asian Cuisine" features nearly 300 recipes some reflect the traditional methods and some have a more modern interpretation. The recipes are accompanied by stories that give insight to Asian food history and traditions.

Here are a few of her recipes:

Wonton Wrappers
Makes about 50 wrappers

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, beaten
Tapioca starch or corn starch for dusting

These egg skins are used for making Chinese wontons and siu mai (pp. 266-67), and Cantonese egg rolls (page 288). These wrappers are widely available fresh, square, or round, in the refrigerated section of Chinese or Southeast Asian markets; you can make your own if you do not have access to the commercial types.

If you want to make wonton wrappers or egg noodles regularly, invest in an inexpensive pasta machine, as it will make the job go a lot more quickly.

  1. Sift the flour and salt over a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, stirring with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until combined. (Add water as needed; no more than 1/4 cup) Then knead until the dough is smooth, stiff, and elastic, about 12 minutes. (You can make the dough using an electric mixer, if you wish.)
  2. Divide the dough into 4 sections, cover each piece of dough with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it out with a dowel or rolling pin until very thin (thinner than Italian Ravioli); dust with tapioca starch on each side to prevent the dough from sticking to the dowel or work surface. If using a pasta machine, shape a piece of dough into a rectangle and pass it through the widest setting. Pass it again, adjusting the machine to a thinner setting every time until you get a sheet that is so thin that you can see your fingers through it. (Every time you pass it through the machine, be sure to dust it with tapioca starch on both sides to prevent sticking.) Cut the strip into 2 1/2-inch squares or rounds, using a cookie cutter. Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of dough. (For egg roll wrappers, cut them into 24 large wrappers, each measuring about 7 inches square.)

Steamed Ginger and Pork Dumplings

I remember spending time with friends in Chinatown playing Tai-wanese mah-jongg, a tile game played at great speed. We would play for hours, sometimes through the night, and before we knew it, Friday turned into Sunday. Every once in a while, we would take a break, retreat to the kitchen, and make jaozi or kwo tiep, boiled or pan fried dumplings respectively. We all got involved. While one of us chopped and mixed the pork and ginger filling, another kneaded the dough, while yet another made the fried (see variation), these fragrant items were delicious served with chili paste, cilantro, and scallion soy sauce dip. We would go through them with great enthusiasm until there was not one left on the plate, then return to our game.

Makes 36 dumplings

1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon tapioca starch or corn starch
Freshly ground black pepper
10 ounce ground pork (70 percent lean)
1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 scallions, root and dark green ends trimmed, and 6-inch stalks minced
36 round wheat wrappers (page 252); or commercial equivalent
4 Napa cabbage leaves
Ginger Infused vinegar dipping sauce (page 89)
Chili and Garlic Sauce (page 106)

  1. Whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, and tapioca starch in a bowl. Season with pepper and add the pork, ginger, and scallions, and mix thoroughly until the ingredients are well combined. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to develop, about 2 hours.
  2. Place a wrapper on a clean work surface. Center a heaping teaspoon of pork filling on top. Dampen your fingertip with water and run it along the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half so it looks like a crescent and pinch to seal. (Be sure to gently press out any air pockets.) Gently press the bottom rounded side of the dumpling onto the work surface to flatten it, so it sits nicely with the pinched side propped up. Repeat this process until you have formed 36 dumplings. As each dumpling is finished, place it on a plate with plastic wrap to cover so it does not dry out.
  3. Fill the bottom third of a wok with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, line a bamboo steamer rack with 2 napa cabbage leaves. Place the pork dumplings pinched side up, on the rack so they do not touch each other. They should be about 1/2 inch apart to allow the steam to come through and cook the dumplings evenly. The size of your steamer will determine how many dumplings you are able to steam at a time. Place the bamboo rack in the work, cover the steamer, and steam until the dumplings are cooked through, about 7 minutes. Serve the dumplings with black vinegar and soy sauce dip and chili and garlic sauce on the side.

Variations: To make Kwo tiep, pot stickers: Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the dumplings, pinched side up, until the flattened underside is golden brown. Add 1/4 cup water, place a lid on top, and steam the pot stickers until the water has almost completely evaporated. Remove the lid and allow the water to evaporate completely and the dumplings to continue crisping, 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve with the dipping sauce.

You can also boil the dumplings in water until they float, about 3 minutes, then drain them as you would raviolis and serve with dipping sauces on the side.

Nuoc Cham
Spicy, Sweet, and Sour Fish Sauce Dip

Makes about 2 cups

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup fish sauce
1 cup lime or lemon juice (about 3 limes or 2 lemons)
2 large garlic cloves, crushed, peeled, and sliced or minced
2 or more Thai chilies, stemmed, seeded, and sliced or minced
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, finely crushed (optional)
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned (optional)

Nuoc Cham (also nuoc mam cham), a clear, light dipping sauce, is the most important table condiment of Vietnam. It combines fish sauce, lime or lemon juice, garlic, chilies, and sugar in perfect harmony. Its refreshing sweet and spicy character complements dozens of foods, ranging from a simple bowl of rice, which is transformed when drizzled with nuoc cham, to a myriad of grilled and deep-fried foods, including grilled lemon grass shrimp (page 223) and spring rolls (pp. 284-85). In Cambodia, where the sauce is called tuk trey (also the generic name for the bottled plain fish sauce), it commonly accompanies fried fish (page 394) and a Cambodian version of Vietnamese summer rolls (pp. 286-87).

The northern Vietnamese like their food mild, so they slice the garlic and chili to produce less dominant flavors. The southerners prefer their garlic and chili minced, yielding a more pronounced flavor. The Cambodians like to add crushed peanuts to their sauce for a richer flavor. In the West, Vietnamese restaurants often serve nuoc cham with julienned carrots, a way to further sweeten the sauce and give it additional color texture.

Whisk together the sugar, fish sauce, 1/3 cup water (or more depending on how strong the fish sauce is), and the lime or lemon juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chili, and let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together. Sprinkle with crushed peanuts (if using), or julienned carrot (if using), just before serving.

Chun Guen
Shanghainese Spring Rolls

During the Tang dynasty, chun guen or (chum juan in Mandarin), literally, "spring rolls" , were created as a celebration of the spring harvest. For this reason the original rolls were filled only with vegetables. Today they are one of the most popular items sold in dim sum restaurants. Fried until crispy, they can be filled with vegetables with or without the additions of shredded minced chicken, pork or shrimp. A classic combination of black vinegar and soy sauce infused with fresh julienned ginger is usually served on the side for dipping.

If using a fresh bamboo shoot, peel and boil it for 15 minutes prior to using in the recipe. If using a fresh whole boiled shoot (available in Japanese markets), rinse prior to using. If using a canned whole shoot, boil it for 3 to 5 minutes to get rid of the tin taste.

Makes 24 rolls

10 dried large Shitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon vegetable oil plus oil for deep frying
2 large garlic cloves, crushed, peeled, and minced.
5 scallions, root and dark green ends trimmed, and 6 inch stalks thinly sliced in rounds.
12 large Napa cabbage leaves, ribs removed, tender green leaves julienned crosswise
1 large bamboo shoot, julienned (about 1 cup)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
24 spring roll wrappers (page 258); or commercial equivalent
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Ginger infused vinegar dipping sauce. (page 89)

  1. Put the shitakes in a bowl with hot water to cover, then set a plate over the bowl to prevent steam from escaping. Let stand until the mushrooms rehydrate and soften, about 30 minutes (or longer, depending on the size of the mushrooms). Squeeze the mushrooms between the palms of your hands to get rid of the excess water. Using a paring knife, remove any hard stems from the mushroom caps into julienned strips.
  2. In a wok or a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Stir-fry the garlic and scallions, until the garlic turns golden, about 2 minutes. Add the shitakes, cabbage, and bamboo shoot and continue to stir fry until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, toss to distribute evenly, and transfer to a platter. Allow to cool completely.
  3. Heat enough oil for deep frying in a pot over medium heat. Meanwhile, place a round wrapper on a clean work surface in front of you. (If using the square store-bought ones, place the wrapper so it looks like a diamond with a point near you.) Place a heaping tablespoon of filling an inch in from the end near you. Spread it out so it forms a 4-inch log. (If using the square wrapper, place the filling 1.5 inches in from the point and spread it out to form a 4 inch log.) Roll the wrapper over the filling once. Fold in the sides, then fold over twice more, leaving an edge open. Moisten the edge well with some of the beaten egg, and roll to the end to enclose the filling. Continue until you have 24 spring rolls. While rolling, it is important that you not make the roll too tight or too loose. If too tight, the roll will crack open while it fries; if too loose, the oil will seep in during the frying process. Be sure to cover the rolls with plastic wrap as you work.
  4. When the oil reaches 360 to 375 degrees add the spring rolls, a few at a time, and deep fry until golden crisp all around, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and serve with ginger infused vinegar dip.

Variations: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the spring rolls lightly with vegetable oil and place them in a baking sheet, about 1/2 inch apart. Bake until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes per side.

Goi Cuon
Summer Rolls

Goi Cuon are a favorite appetizer in Vietnamese restaurants. They are fresh rolls of rice paper filled with tender lettuce, crunchy, sweet carrots, refreshing mint leaves, pungent scallions and tender pork and shrimp. Some versions include fresh mung bean sprouts and cucumber as well. Goi Cuon are served with a light peanut sauce called nouc cham dau phong (sometimes referred to as nouc leo). Cambodian restaurants also serve this tasty roll accompanied by a tangy, sweet and spicy fish sauce dip with crushed peanuts called tuk trey.

While all the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time, the rice papers should be soaked just as you are making the rolls, and the rolls themselves should be made no more than an hour prior to serving for best results. If made too long in advance, the softened rice paper starts to dry out, making the rolls a bit chewy, often the main complaint from the customers who order them in restaurants.

Makes 12 rolls

4 ounce dried rice vermicelli
4 ounce pork tenderloins
18 small to medium shrimp, heads and shells removed
12 round rice papers (about 8 inches in diameter)
1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated and ribs removed.
3 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
Half a cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced crosswise
3 scallions, root and dark green ends trimmed, and 6 inch stalks cut into 1- inch long pieces and julienned
24 large mint leaves
Vietnamese Peanut sauce (page 99)
Tuk Trey (page 100)

  1. Place the dried rice vermicelli in a dish with water to cover. Let stand until pliable, about 30 minutes, and drain and squeeze to get rid of excess water.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Place the vermicelli in a sieve and lower it into the boiling water for 5 seconds. Lift up the sieve, shake off the excess water, and transfer the vermicelli to a bowl. When it's cool enough to handle, divide the vermicelli into 12 portions. In the same boiling water, cook the pork tenderloins until well done but still juicy, 10 to 15 minutes. When it's cool enough to handle, thinly slice against the grain. You should have 24 to 36 thin slices. Add the shrimp to the same boiling water until they turn opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain. When they are cool enough to handle, halve lengthwise and devein.
  3. Pour lukewarm water about an inch deep into a flat round dish. Separate (be sure to do this step or your papers will stick together)and soak 3 to 4 wrappers at a time until pliable, about 5 minutes. Place a clean kitchen towel on your work surface, then place each rice paper on the towel. With another kitchen towel gently blot each wrapper until it is no longer wet but remains sticky. Leaving an inch uncovered on the side closest to you and the adjacent side, place a lettuce leaf and a portion of vermicelli on top, followed by 2 to 3 overlapped shrimp halves, some carrots, cucumber, scallions and 2 mint leaves on each rice paper. Fold the wrapper once over the filling, then fold in the sides and continue rolling tightly to the end. Repeat this process with the remaining ingredients to make 12 rolls. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap as you work and until ready to eat. Serve with peanut sauce or tuk trey.

Variations: Vegetarians can replace the pork and shrimp with fresh mung bean sprouts. You can also substitute cooked skinless chicken breast for the pork.

Gaeng Jued WoonSen Pork and Cellophane Noodle Soup

From the central plains of Thailand comes this tasty ground pork and cellophane noodle soup called gaeng jued woon sen. Light in flavor, it is perfect for the spring and summer months. The slippery texture of the noodles is a wonderful counterbalance to the graininess of the ground pork and crunchy napa cabbage. The scallions and cilantro give the soup a refreshing note, while the fried garlic adds a delicious smoky flavor and bring all the flavors together on the palate.

Serves 4-6
Three 7 ounce packages dried Mung Bean Threads (cellophane noodles)
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
Freshly ground white pepper
1.5 teaspoons tapioca starch, or cornstarch
12 ounce ground pork (70 percent lean)
10 cups basic pork stock (page 118)
6 napa cabbage leaves, julienned
Kosher salt
2 scallions, root and dark green ends trimmed, and 6 inch stalks thinly sliced
3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Fried garlic with oil (page 108)

  1. Place the cellophane noodles in a dish with water to cover, Let stand until rehydrated and softened, about 30 minutes.
  2. Mix together the fish sauce, pepper to taste, and tapioca starch in a bowl. Add the ground pork and combine well. Shape the ground-pork mix into 24 small meatballs.
  3. Bring the pork stock to a boil over high heat. Add the meatballs and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the cellophane noodles and napa cabbage, and cook until the cellophane noodles have turned transparent, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide the noodles, meatballs, cabbage and broth among individual large soup bowls. Garnish each serving with scallions, cilantro and fried garlic oil, and serve.

Variations: For a Thai rice soup, substitute 2 cups cooked long grain rice for the cellophane noodles. Divide the cooked rice among bowls and ladle the soup with all its ingredients over each serving, and garnish with scallions, cilantro and fried garlic oil. This dish is most often eaten for breakfast in Thailand.

Chap Chae
Stir Fried Potato Starch Noodles

Chap Chae, literally, "stir fried mixture" is a popular and classic Korean noodle, vegetable and meat dish. Like cellophane noodles made of mung bean starch, potato starch noodles turn transparent when cooked. Slightly gray in color, they are basically flavorless as stand-alones, but absorb a great deal of flavor. The noodles pick up a golden color from the soy sauce and sesame oil seasoning. The soft slippery texture is a perfect counterbalance to the crunchy carrots, slightly chewy shitakes, and tender spinach. A small amount of thinly sliced beef sirloin enriches the dish, making it a perfect first course.

Serves 4-6>

2 ounces dried sweet potato starch noodles; or dried mung bean threads (cellophane noodles)
1 or more, tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large garlic cloves, crushed peeled and minced.
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
8 ounces beef sirloin, thinly sliced against the grain then into thin strips
3 tablespoons Korean or Japanese dark soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons sesame oil
pinch granulated sugar
1 pound baby spinach
2 scallions, root and dark green ends trimmed, and 6 inch stalks thinly sliced diagonally
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted sesame seeds

  1. Place the dried noodles in a dish with hot water to cover. Allow them to rehydrate, about 30 minutes, and drain. Bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook noodles until transparent, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a non stick skillet. Stir fry the garlic carrot, shitakes and beef along with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar, until the vegetables and the beef are just cooked, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and continue stir frying until just wilted, about 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining vegetable oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar to the skillet. Stir fry the noodles until heated, about 2 minutes. Return the stir-fried vegetables and meat to the skillet, add half the scallions, season with pepper to taste, and mix the ingredients so they are evenly distributed. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle some sesame seeds across the top, garnish with the remaining scallions, and serve.

Variations: Substitute pork tenderloins or chicken breast for the beef and slice, using the same technique as for the beef.
Omit the meat for a vegetarian version.

Fun Si L Han Jai
Braised Cellophane Noodles with Shrimp and Mushrooms

Fun Si, cellophane noodles made of mung bean starch, originated in China. They are also called crystal noodles because they become transparent when cooked. The noodles, when cooked, are springy and slippery. Naturally bland, they absorb a great deal of flavor. For this reason, they have been traditionally used in braised dishes such as this one, incorporated into dumpling stuffing, and added to soups such as Indonesia's classic sotoayam (pp 136-37). These same Chinese cellophane noodles were the inspiration behind Korea's tang myon, potato starch noodles, which are used in making chap chae (page 250). Although grayish in color, the potato starch noodles becomes transparent when cooked like the Chinese cellophane noodles, but with a light grayish hue.
Fun si lo han jai--braised cellophane noodles with dried shrimp, dried shitakes, and Napa cabbage--is a family favorite, and I never get tired of making it.

Serves 4-6

Three 7 ounces packages cellophane noodles
1/2 cup dried shrimp
8 dried medium shitake mushroom
1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and sliced paper thin.
4 scallions, root and dark green ends trimmed, and 6 inch stalks cut into 1 inch long pieces.
8 large Napa cabbage leaves, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise and cut into 1 inch strips
2 cups basic chicken stock (page 116)
2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons Shoaxing wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil.

  1. Place the cellophane noodles, shrimp and shitake in 3 separate bowls with water to cover until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain all three. Place the shitakes between the palms of your hands and squeeze to get rid of the excess water. With a paring knife remove and discard the stems and julienne the caps.
  2. Heat the oil in a sand pot or a heavy- bottomed pot over medium heat. Stir fry the garlic, ginger and scallions until fragrant and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp, shitakes and cabbage and stir fry until just cooked, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. To the same pot, add the stock, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine and sesame oil and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the noodles, and cook until they have absorbed all of the stock, 3 to 5 minutes. Return the cabbage stir fry to the pot and stir to distribute the ingredients evenly. Cover and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes more. Divide among the individual plates and serve with a bowl of rice on the side.
Corrine Trang is an award-winning cookbook author. She has written for distinguished magazines such as Food and Wine, Organic Style, and Saveur. She is also a faculty member of the Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she teaches Asian culinary arts. She lives in New York City.