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HeartSmart Chinese Cooking

by: Stephen Wong

Vancouver British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre 1996, $14.95, Paperback
ISBN: 1-55054-496-9

Reviewed by: Jo Marie Powers
Spring Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(1) page(s): 18 and 20

In Canada, HeartSmart means foods that are reduced in fat and sodium and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada supports publishing these extremely popular books. Stephen Wong was their author of choice for their first cookbook in this 'New World of Cooking' series, and justifiably so. He is a creative Chinese-Canadian chef, is well known and is respected in the Vancouver area. His flavours are a fusion of Asian and North American, but he styles his cooking as Pacific Rim. His is a natural talent for combining flavours, using a variety of sauces, seasonings, vegetables and grains.

Mr. Wong reduces fat and sodium in Chinese cookery and is clever; and there is a secret to his good results. He cooks the vegetables in a rich, unsalted stock so that they glisten to disperse their flavours. Then, he cleans the wok and browns the marinated meat in just a little fat, one tablespoon for four servings. "Marinating the meat", he says, "helps to flavour meats that have been trimmed of fat, and the thickener (usually cornstarch) adds flavour because it makes the sauces cling to the meat. In fact, these are not new methods, but traditional Chinese cookery techniques." To complete the recipe, the vegetables and meat are combined.

Sodium reduction might appear difficult: do not we Westerners know how much salt there is in soy sauce? Well, for one thing, the Chinese do not pour soy sauce on their food as we think they do. In fact, a Chinese student told me emphatically that using soy sauce the way we do is analogous to dumping several bottles of ketchup on an order of fries. That said, Wong reduces the sodium in his recipes to 25% of the same dish you would find in a Chinese restaurant. None of his recipes contain more than an almost gram of sodium per serving. Again, Wong is ingenious: he uses his full-intensity stocks and increases the quantity of his spices and seasonings such as garlic, ginger, vinegar and five-spice powder.

This book is a treasure-trove of recipes that ask to be tried. Included are favorites remembered from his childhood in Hong Kong such as Chicken Congee, Barbecued Pork and Vegetarian Eggplant Szechuan Style. And, drawing from all around the Pacific Rim he has created dishes like Salmon Roulades with Enoki Mushrooms, Potsticker Tofu with Shrimp, and Spinach Fettuccine with Moo Shu Prawns. Wong introduces Westerners to many new ingredients and seasonings: Some of his favorites are gai lan, chayotes, see qua, yard-long beans, wood ear mushrooms and lotus roots.

Each recipe is distinctively different, making use of differing spice combinations and flavorings. The list of ingredients may appear long, but they are quickly combined, and the cooking time is generally from five to ten minutes. He includes detailed instructions for how to chop and cut, an invaluable aid for the neophyte Chinese cook. If the ingredient is one which may only be available in Asian markets, he suggests substitutes and says: "I like to introduce new ingredients in my recipes--that is what Chinese cooking is all about." He provides the reader with information about the ingredients he uses, including a color photograph and glossary. A full nutrient analysis is given for each recipe done by Nancy Ling, a Registered Dietitian; she uses 'Food Processor Nutrition Analysis Software, Version 6.03.'

Wong's Spicy Beef with Baby Bok Choy is an example of his cookery methods. There was about a quarter of a cup of oil in the original recipe, which he reduced to one tablespoon. He added a new 'fusion' twist with the addition of satay sauce, and drew from his knowledge of French cookery, as he worked in a French bistro, to add the Veal Demi-glace sauce. Wong says, "the result is a well-balanced dish with contrasting flavours."

The recipe presented below is in the style of Flavor and Fortune. In the book they are given in metric and English measures; but are adjusted for American measures.

This review appeared in the hardcopy column titled: Bookshelf: A Pair of Reviews.
Spicy Beef with Baby Bok Choy
Ingredients for the beef and marinade:
1/4 pound lean beef (flank steak preferred), thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
Ingredients for the sauce:
1/4 cup veal demi-glace or chicken stock
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon satay sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Other ingredients:
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 pound baby bok choy, washed, trimmed, cut finger length
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon canola oil
2 thick slices of ginger
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 red chilies (optional)
1. Marinate beef in marinade, adding two tablespoons water, for at least thirty minutes or overnight.
2. Combine sauce ingredients with an added tablesoon water, and set aside.
3. Heat wok and stock on medium heat, add bok choy, sugar, and garlic and stir-fry for one minute. Cover to cook for two minutes or until the bok choy is just tender. Then uncover and stir briefly until liquid is absorbed, about one minute. Add sesame oil and toss to mix. Remove vegetables and keep warm. Rinse and dry the wok.
4. To cook beef, heat wok on high heat and add oil. When oil begins smoking, add ginger, shallots, and chilies and fry briefly until fragrant. Add beef and stir to cook evenly for one or two minutes or until beef begins to turn pale. Add sauce mixture and stir-fry for about one minute until sauce has thickened. Pour evenly over vegetables or stir in with vegetables and serve immediately. Serves 4.

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