When you think about it — which I’ve been doing while reading Corinne Trang’s new book — a diet that’s good for diabetics is good for most everyone. The goal is balanced meals that are low in fat and moderate in calories. So “Asian Flavors Diabetes Cookbook” (American Diabetes Association, 2012; $19.95), despite its title, should have broad appeal.
Trang is a well-known author of seven cookbooks who is also a lecturer, consultant and frequent TV and radio show guest. She set out to write what the book cover describes as “the first book that takes the elegant, easy to prepare, and naturally healthy recipes and meals of Asian cuisine and crafts them specifically for people with diabetes.”
The mingling of the two ideas isn’t a stretch. Asian food, which rarely includes dairy products and makes spare use of meats, does seem for the most part healthful. But it has its pitfalls. Soy sauce and other condiments can be remarkably salty. Coconut milk, a favored flavoring, can be high in fat. And finger foods are routinely deep-fried. Here, Trang has modified traditional recipes to make them diabetic-friendly. Light soy sauce and low-sodium salt are used. Coconut milk is replaced by light coconut milk or almond milk. Egg rolls and spring rolls are oven-baked. Brown rice is favored over white. Ginger root, hot peppers and rice vinegar build flavor without piling on calories. It’s a common-sense approach that you could probably figure out for yourself, but it helps to have the already-tweaked recipes in front of you.
When those recipes work. Some of the ones I tried, alas, did not. Minty Jasmine Rice With Chicken needed more kick despite the inclusion of what was billed as Spicy Fish Sauce Dressing. An intriguing-sounding dessert, Almond Tapioca With Banana and Corn, was muddy and dull. A side dish of raw zucchini with prunes was DOA as written but came alive with the addition of lime juice and zest. I was all set to make another promising dish, Asian Shrimp Sausages, billed as “lemon grass-infused,” but I changed my mind after finding lemon grass AWOL from both the ingredient list and the directions.
So what’s to like about the book? Most of the 110 recipes contain fewer than 10 ingredients and are simple to put together. Trang’s introduction of Asian ingredients that might not be in everyone’s pantry will be helpful to some. Many of the recipe headnotes explain the derivation of the dish and teach little lessons in international cuisine. There’s basic helpful advice to get the novice through, for example, filleting a fish, forming pot stickers and stir-frying. For diabetics using the exchange system of diet planning, recipes list exchanges for the dish. And for all of us, each recipe has a complete nutritional analysis.
Keep an eye on that nutritional analysis, by the way. As you roll 24 pork meatballs and marvel at the total of just 60 calories and 3.5 grams of fat per serving, know that each “serving” is precisely one 1-ounce meatball. Same goes for the 12 little fruit spring rolls that weigh in at 150 calories and 1 gram of fat. Of course, nobody’s telling you that you can’t eat two of them. In fact, I had three.