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Grill It, Roll It, Eat It

TIMES FOOD STYLISTS

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White asparagus and crab soup,

or Egg rolls Grilled Beef and Lettuce Rolls Star fruit garni

Coconut cream pie Hot tea or ice coffee The cuisine of Vietnam, like that of its Southeast Asian neighbors, has affinities to Chinese and Indian food--as well as a unique touch of French influence. Spicing is less intense than in Thai or Indian cooking. And Vietnamese cooks use less oil than the Chinese, though brief stir-frying has been adapted to the cuisine.

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Combining cooked meats with fresh greens is also typical. This grilled beef dish served on a lettuce leaf was inspired by a dish indigenous to Southern Vietnam. Our shortcut dipping sauce combines Chinese flavors of hoisin with an Indonesian touch of chopped peanuts. To add color and crunch to the grilled beef, throw in some other fresh vegetables that you may have in the refrigerator. Carambola (star fruit) makes a beautiful tropical-looking garnish.

For a starter, an easy egg-flower-type soup may be concocted from chicken broth mixed with canned white asparagus and cooked crab meat; beaten egg is added slowly to the simmering soup. Another instant first course: ready-to-bake or ready-to-fry frozen egg rolls.

For a lazy dessert, pick up a coconut cream pie from the bakery. Finish off with hot tea or iced coffee--they’re equally soothing, depending on your mood.

GRILLED BEEF AND LETTUCE ROLLS

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Staples

3 tablespoons soy sauce or fish sauce

3 large cloves garlic

Red pepper flakes

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Shopping

1 pound beef tenderloin, top sirloin or other tender cut

1 small jar hoisin sauce

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can clear chicken broth

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1 lemon

1 small can roasted unsalted peanuts

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch mint leaves or green onions

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1 head Boston or red leaf lettuce

1. Mince 3 cloves garlic. Cut 1 pound beef tenderloin in strips or cubes. Combine meat with 1/3 of garlic and 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Season to taste with red pepper flakes and squeeze of lemon.

2. Finely chop 3 tablespoons peanuts. Combine with remaining minced garlic, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons chicken broth and dash red pepper flakes. Stir well to blend.

3. Grill meat to desired degree of doneness.

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4. Measure 1/4 cup each cilantro leaves and mint leaves (or chopped green onions). Divide meat onto 4 to 6 Boston lettuce leaves. Sprinkle with cilantro and mint leaves.

5. To eat, roll up lettuce and dip in peanut sauce.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Note: If desired, add vegetables to meat such as halved red and yellow teardrop or cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced cucumber, bean sprouts or shredded carrots.

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