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'New American' Cuisine

Simpson Wong is a self-taught chef whose food is an eclectic interpretation of "New American" cuisine. We asked him to stop by The Saturday Early Show to take the Chef on a Shoestring challenge.

Wong, the executive chef and owner of New York City's Jefferson and Cafe Asean restaurants, says his food is a reflection of his travels and his childhood. A native of Malaysia with Chinese ancestry, Wong has lived and traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe. He credits his mother for teaching him much of what he knows.

Wong says his mother used to prepare meals for the employees at his father's small timber company in Malaysia. She grew most of her own produce because the family lived in the rain forest and trips to the market were rare.

Wong held a variety of jobs, such as working as a U.N. liaison for a nongovernmental organization and becoming a licensed shiatsu masseur, before following his passion for food.

In 1996, he opened Cafe Asean, which features authentic Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian cuisine. Recently, he opened Jefferson next door to Cafe Asean.

We invited him to make a meal for four for under $30 for the latest Chef on a Shoestring challenge. His menu: an appetizer of Tomato and Mango Salad; an entrée of Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Warm Barley Salad; and for dessert, Curried Strawberries with Coconut Cream.


Lemon grass: One of the most important flavorings in Thai cooking, according to "The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition," lemon grass has long, thin, gray-green leaves and a scallion-like base. Citral, an essential oil also found in lemon peel, gives lemon grass its sour-lemon flavor and fragrance. Lemon grass is available fresh or dried in Asian (particularly Thai) markets. It's used to make tea and to flavor soups and other dishes. Lemon grass is also called citronella and sereh.

Mangoes: A fruit that grows in a wide variety of shapes (oblong, kidney and round) and sizes (from about 6 ounces to 4 pounds). As described in "The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition," the mango's thin, tough skin is green and, as the fruit ripens, becomes yellow with beautiful red mottling. Mangoes are in season from May to September, though imported fruit is in the stores sporadically throughout the remainder of the year. Ripe mangoes can be placed in a plastic bag and held in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


Tomato and Mango Salad
Serves 4

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 vine-ripened tomatoes
1 mango (if you find the Asian variety, you should purchase 2 mangoes)
20 fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon grass (use the white root part only)
1 tablespoon lime zest
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over medium heat, reduce the balsamic vinegar until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Reserve.

Peel and slice the tomatoes and mangoes into rounds that are 1-1/2-inch in diameter. (The mango will have to be sliced lengthwise from the outside toward the seed - you cannot cut through the seed.)

On each of four plates, place 5 tomatoes slices and 3 mango slices alternating between the two and sandwiching a leaf of basil between the slices.

Sprinkle the lemon grass and lime zest on top of the salad. Drizzle the salad with some lime juice and the reduced balsamic vinegar. Season to taste.

Grilled Five-Spice Chicken with Warm Barley Salad, Roasted Tomato and Eggplant
Serves 4

Chicken Ingredients:

2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoons shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cup lemon grass, finely chopped (you will use the both the white and green parts of the lemon grass, trim off the top about 1/2-inch, discard)
salt and pepper to taste
4 skinned chicken breasts (approximately 6 ounces each)

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the honey, soy sauce, garlic, shallot, ginger, lemon grass, salt and pepper. Place the chicken breasts in a pan and pour the mixture over them, coating each piece well. Marinate for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator.

Grill the chicken breasts over high heat until cooked through (approximately 3 minutes on each side).

Ingredients for the Barley Salad:
1/2 cup pearl barley
2 cups chicken broth
1 12-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, diced (you will only use 1/2 cup - reserve the rest for another use)
1/2 cup diced eggplant
1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the barley overnight in cold water. (This helps cut down on cooking time.) Bring one cup of the chicken broth to a boil in a saucepan, add the barley and cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, place the diced tomato and eggplant on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Place in a preheated, 375 degree F, oven for about 3 minutes.

Add the remaining cup of chicken broth, roasted tomato and eggplant, and chopped shallot to the barley. Leave on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the barley is cooked through, approximately another 15 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chopped parsley, optional cayenne pepper, and butter, stirring well. Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm.

Arugula Garnish Ingredients:

1/4 pound fresh arugula, washed and trimmed
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Toss the arugula with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To Assemble Dish:
Spoon 1/4 of the warm barley salad on each plate. Place grilled chicken breast over the barley salad and top with dressed arugula to garnish.

Curried Strawberries with Coconut Cream
Serves 4

1 pint strawberries, washed and stems removed
1 cup coconut cream*
1 tablespoons Madras curry powder
2 tablespoons maple syrup or 2 tablespoons of honey

*Coconut cream is obtained from a can of coconut milk. Be careful not to shake the can, so the cream remains naturally separated from the more watery portion of the milk. This way the coconut cream can be easily spooned from the can.

Cut the strawberries in half and place in a large bowl. Add the coconut cream and mix. Drizzle mixture with maple syrup or honey. Sprinkle with curry powder. Serve in four small bowls or glasses.

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