THE BOOK "Simply Ming: Easy Techniques for East-Meets-West Meals" by Ming Tsai and Arthur Boehm (Clarkson Potter, 2003, $32.50)
THE AUTHOR Tsai first gained recognition for his graceful melding of East and West flavors at his Boston restaurant, Blue Ginger. But Tsai has also handily parlayed his ingenuity in chef's whites -- not to mention his boyish good looks and cheery personality -- into a number of celebrity chef incarnations, among them two television shows ("East Meets West" on the Food Network and "Simply Ming" on PBS station WGBH in Boston) and a product line.
In his first book, "Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking With Ming Tsai," Tsai shared fairly complicated recipes from the restaurant. In his second book, Tsai takes a vastly different approach.
THE FORMAT It's ingenious. The concept was born when Tsai realized many of his signature restaurant dishes could be quickly replicated at home once the core sauce was in place. Consider the book to be a sort of extension of his product line. And so each chapter provides a basic recipe -- an infused oil, reduced sauce, simple marinade or basic broth -- that, once made, can be stored and used either as an off-the-cuff drizzle or embellishment during weeknight cooking or as an integral ingredient in any of several recipes that follow.
After you make the bewitchingly sweet carrot-chipotle syrup in the Syrups chapter, you can either reserve it and try several suggested tips using the recipe on an impromptu basis (such as a drizzle over vegetables) or you can proceed to make the recipe on the following page, seared scallops with glazed carrots and onion compote.
Tsai's engaging personality is at play on every page, which commences with a chapter of concise, well-organized explanations of basic ingredients and techniques. The attention to detail continues with straightforward directions -- complete with the cookbook equivalent of driving landmarks in each recipe. Tsai doesn't dangle fancy techniques over the heads of cooks, though many recipes call for not-quite-everyday ingredients. Advanced cooks won't be bored. Novice cooks won't be intimidated.
WHO WOULD READ IT Home cooks with an eye toward the imaginative who have to put dinner on the table night after night in fewer minutes than they want with fewer resources than they like.
-- Renee Schettler
Makes 4 cups
"People often tell me they love the taste of curry, but not the kick many curried dishes deliver. For anyone who wants subtly fragrant curried taste in their cooking, this oil is a must.
"I recommend Madras curry powder. It has a deeper, 'darker' flavor than other curry powders, due to its relative abundance of cinnamon, allspice and clove. After steeping with the oil, the spices will settle to the bottom of your jar. You'll want to scoop out and use the bright yellow oil (an old spoon bent at a 45-degree angle makes a perfect dipper) and leave the spice behind.
"Toss veggies like zucchini, onions or peppers with the oil, season them with salt and pepper, and bake them on a baking sheet that's been preheated in a 400-degree oven. You can also grill them outdoors. Use the oil to make a deliciously spicy vinaigrette. For a quick supper dish, saute sea scallops in the oil."
-- From the Flavored Oils and Sauces chapter
1 quart (4 cups) grapeseed or canola oil
1/2 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 cup Madras curry powder
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the oil with the ginger and heat over medium heat until the oil is fragrant and the ginger just begins to color, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a large, heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add the curry powder to the dry skillet and toast, stirring, until the curry powder smokes slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Whisk in the ginger and oil, remove from the stove, and cool completely, 30 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the oil and spices to a 1- to 11/2-quart glass jar, scraping the pan well. Allow the mixture to stand until the oil and curry powder have separated completely, about 4 hours or overnight. The oil is now ready to use. Store in the refrigerator. Lasts 1 month, refrigerated.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 225 calories, trace protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 1 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Makes a scant 1/2 cup
"This vinegar reduction, which adds intriguing sweet-tart flavor to dishes, takes advantage of the fact that when balsamic vinegar is cooked down, its inherent sweetness is intensified. Three-Vinegar Syrup combines the complex flavors of balsamic, rice wine and Chinese black vinegars. It does wonders for beef and seafood, but it can also be used to intensify the taste and aroma of sweet foods, including fruit, or as a dessert sauce; I serve it over vanilla ice cream with great success. And because it is syrupy, you can use it decoratively, too, to beautify plates while adding a flavor accent. . . .
"For extra flavor, drizzle the syrup on meats or vegetables. Great on fish and chips or served as a tempura dip. Use the syrup to make a suave vinaigrette by mixing 1 part syrup with 1 part oil. If you can't find black vinegar, you can make a good approximation using balsamic vinegar plus star anise. See the recipe."
-- From the Syrups chapter
2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 cups rice vinegar
1/2 cup Chinese black vinegar, or an additional 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar plus 1 piece of star anise
In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegars (and star anise, if using) and bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue to simmer until the mixture is reduced by about 80 percent and thick and syrupy, 1 to 11/2 hours. (If using the star anise, remove it after the first 30 minutes of cooking.) To test for proper consistency, drizzle a little of the syrup on a chilled plate. It should keep its shape when the plate is tilted. Use or store. Lasts 1 month, refrigerated.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 132 calories, 0 gm protein, 24 gm carbohydrates, 0 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 gm saturated fat, 18 mg sodium, 0 gm dietary fiber
Black Bean-Garlic Sauce
Makes about 3 cups
"As a teenager in Dayton, Ohio, I had to seek out Chinatowns away from home to have black beans and clams, a dish I'd dream about -- literally. The combo is classic Chinese, like its main savory seasoning, the black beans and garlic. This version gives you all the great pungent taste of that immortal pairing without the bother of having to chop and blend every time you want it.
"For an easy pasta dish, toss with freshly cooked spaghetti or linguine and raw baby spinach. The sauce adds terrific flavor to stir-fries. Just toss it with veggies you've stir-fried in oil until tender-crisp and season with salt and pepper to taste. For an East-West chicken salad, mix the sauce with cooked cubed chicken and pile the mixture onto whole lettuce leaves."
-- Excerpted from the Flavored Oils and Sauces chapter
1 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil
1/3 cup fermented black beans,* roughly chopped
1/2 cup minced garlic
1/2 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 bunches scallions (white and green parts), sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 tablespoon sambal oelek or hot red pepper sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup of the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the beans, garlic, ginger and scallions and stir-fry until the mixture has softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the sambal oelek and wine, decrease the heat to medium and cook until the mixture is reduced by 3/4, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the salt and pepper.
Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool. Transfer half of the mixture to a blender and puree it at a high speed while adding the remaining 3/4 cup of oil. Stir the puree back into the remaining mixture and cool completely. (Be sure not to seal the jar in which you store the sauce until it's completely cool, and stir it well before using.) Use or store. Lasts 2 weeks, refrigerated.
*NOTE: Fermented black beans: A mainstay of Southern Chinese cooking, this pungent ingredient is made from black soybeans that are flavored with salt and spices and then allowed to ferment. Store the beans, which are usually sold in bags, away from the light in a cool, dry place.
Too variable for meaningful analysis.