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Secrets of Fat-free Chinese Cooking

by: Ying Chang Compestine

Garden City NY: Avery Publishing Group 1997, $14.95, Paperback
ISBN: 0-89528-735-3


Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(3) page(s): 27

While recuperating from an unknown allergic reaction, I tried foods touted by a teacher of healthy Chinese-style cooking, one with experience at the Boulder Heart Institute. Most of her more than one hundred thirty recipes, the cover says, have less than two grams of fat per serving and I needed almost none.

Selecting what to prepare in any cookbook can be daunting. In this one, after my very restricted diet, I went at it with relish looking for healthy secrets, selecting them in random fashion as I did not want my choices to have preconceived notions. In the six I tried, two were great, two tasted of too much Mrs. Dash which was there as a touted healthy salt substitute, and two were out-and-out losers.

The Long Life Noodles in Vegetable Sauce won my heart. Its excellent sauce combo of garlic, cucumber, scallions, chili peppers, black pepper, and some five-spice powder was just terrific. Ditto the Steamed Beef and Vegetable Dumplings, whose mix of hot mustard, chili paste, lemon juice and sesame oil was a perfect foil for the ground beef that I did opt for two cleavers and mincing mine, Chinese style, nere I added the carrots, scallions, and onions. One secret or trick in the dumpling recipe was the carrot slice placed under each dumpling before putting it in the steamer. That is clever, as the dumplings did come out garnished and ready; and they left the steamer easier to clean. A secret to the noodle recipe remains hidden. Maybe the nutrition after it was that sesame oil is omitted in the ingredient list and the nutrient calculation, but not in the instructions for its use.

Among the losers, taste was in short supply. In one, you had to settle for a small amount of cilantro shared with the five people I served it to. In the other, there was need to divvy-up just half a teaspoon of Mrs. Dash. To keep the recipes healthy, the author uses minimal amounts of low-sodium broth, low-sodium soy sauce, and too much of that commercial salt substitute called Mrs. Dash. That may meet the dietary requirements of the American Heart Association but it did compromise flavor in foods from the world's greatest cuisine.

Beyond the recipes, there is an introduction by Dr. R.B. Jenkins, director of the Colorado Heart Institute where Compestine taught, a short introduction, a few pages of nutrition information titled: 'Shopping Guide,' and a few more under the sub-heading of 'Choosing the Best Ingredients.' In the latter, read about ten vegetables, six grains, noodles and soy products, twenty other items such as sauces, spices, herbs, and flavorings, five oils and sprays, and a brief piece about egg whites, egg substitutes, salt, natural ingredients, and fat.

The eight chapters of recipes offer a plethora of choices, most with no or low fat. Each tells the amount of fat, but only some visual imagination catches serving size; is that another secret? In one recipe, each person is allotted either a small dumpling made with a wonton wrapper or a pancake with a couple of tablespoons of Mu Shu Pork. Another sets one serving at one-third of one trout; that tiny morsel has almost four grams of fat. In another, the author limits one to share two trout among five people. That is an odd way, and in my mind, and can make a major serving dilemma.

Despite these shortcomings, valuable information is scattered throughout. I loved the excellent advice about (re)hydrating dried mushrooms and how to rinse their oft-filled sandy gills. Compestine also advises about how to dine out and when cooking and eating in, and what to look for should you purchase cooking sprays. Enjoy her secrets, many are great. Be tantalized by the one hundred color photographs.

One last thing, in books that use trade names, as does this one, I wonder about their frequent inclusion in ingredient lists. Perhaps, that is one of the secrets in this book. But we belive brand name products should appear only in the introduction. They are,after all, advertisements. Another beef, if you will pardon that sin, relates to portion control. If it is the only control that works, how does one manage one portion with eight ounces of turkey and three cups of rice dividing it into fourteen turkey rolls? Can anyone survive on a main course with a portion containing a mite more than one quarter of a cup? That is a bit much, I mean little.
Long Life Noodles in Vegetable Sauce
Ingredients:
8 ounces thin rice noodles
cooking spray
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced, then cut into strips
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
2 cups low sodium fat-free beef broth
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 sprigs fresh cilantro, minced
Preparation:
1. Cook noodles until tender or according to their directions, then drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
2. Spray a non-stick fry pan or wok with cooking oil and place it on a burner preheated to medium. Add the garlic, cucumber, scallions, and chili pepper flakes and saute just until the garlic starts to brown.
3. Mix cornstarch with the broth and add it to the garlic mixture along with the black pepper and five-spice powder. Stir until it thickens then immediately add the noodles and toss them thoroughly with this mixture.
4. Toss with sesame oil and garnish with cilantro, then serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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