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Cookbook review

Ming Tsai makes 'fusion' out of 'confusion' when East meets West


'Blue Ginger: East Meets West cooking with Ming Tsai'
By Ming Tsai and Arthur Boehm
(Clarkson Potter)

March 20, 2000
Web posted at: 8:33 a.m. EST (1333 GMT)

(CNN) -- As Ming Tsai points out in his introduction to the "Blue Ginger" cookbook, attempts to combine the best of western or French cuisine with the best of Eastern cuisine often end up more with "confusion" than fusion.

Yet, the idea of combining flavorful ingredients from one cuisine with the other is irresistible. What's needed to make the combos work is someone who knows both, and that's Tsai. Raised in Dayton, Ohio where his parents ran a Chinese restaurant, he went to Yale to study mechanical engineering, but later decided that food was his real passion.

Recipe count: Over 100
Art: Color and black and white photos
Nutrition info: No
Price: $32.50

That led to training in Paris and then in Japan before he came back to the United States to begin work in San Francisco.

Today he holds forth from his Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts and on his "East Meets West" television show on the Food Network.

In most of the dishes found in this book he deftly shows respect for his ingredients. They aren't used so much to create extreme dishesas subtle pairings. And, even hecan get confused. In an endearing incident, he had his parents on an episode of East Meets West. When he pronounced the name of a Chinese ingredient improperly, his mother corrected him. He apologized, adding his French "ack-sant" had gotten in the way. So it goes when you are trying to balance such disparate cultures.

The power of pairing

He calls his "Foie Gras and Morel Shu Mai" the quintessential pairing of East-West cuisines, and he's exactly right.

In this case Shu Mai, dumplings packed with a filling of mushrooms and chicken are given a big boost in flavor by combining chunky foie gras and truffle oil to the stuffing. That's the Western contribution.

The Eastern is a puree of edamame -- fresh soybeans -- which remind Tsai of fava beans but are, he says, easier to deal with and just as sweet and flavorful.

The edamame are pureed with chicken stock, spinach, truffle oil and finely chopped black truffles and placed in a bowl. The steamed dumplings with their chicken, mushroom, and foie gras stuffing is placed around the puree, and a broth made with chicken stock and Sauternes, the sweet wine from Bordeaux and the traditional French pairing with foie gras, is ladled into the bowl.

Now, sure, this is East meets West -- edamame plus shu mai, two Asian standards, combined with foie gras, truffles, and Sauternes, all French classics.

But what you realize once you've sampled this dish is that it really doesn't matter where these ingredients came from. What matters is that this dish tastes good.

As seen on TV

Even the dishes where Tsai seems to be on the edge come out working well. For example, he uses traditional Chinese tea-smoking to flavor salmon fillets. A nice alternative to the hickory or alder smoking one finds in the Northwestern United States.

With this he serves "Wasabi Potato Latkes." Huh? Well, he sheepishly says, that's what everyone calls them. These are potato pancakes made with wasabi, the Asian horseradish.

Many of the recipes come from Tsai's television show, a plus since you can often see him demonstrating them. On the show, portions are usually pared down to serve four to six, but several of the recipes in the book must have moved from the kitchen at Blue Ginger without much adjustment.

Two soups, for example, "Roasted Garlic and Celeriac Soup with Wild Mushroom Ragout" and "Corn Lemongrass Soup" will produce enough for eight to 10 people if you follow the recipe.

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Blue Ginger
Clarkson Potter
The Fire and The Hearth

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