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Asia: The Subtlety of Flavors

<i> Roberts is chef at Trumps</i>

Most of us are familiar enough with Asian cuisines to know the differences among Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Indian dishes. But we are not so familiar with the traditions of each of these cuisines, and our palates are less trained to the subtleties of flavor or the proper use of ingredients.

The basic flavor ingredients in various cuisines are as different from each other as the European cuisines with which we are more familiar.

As simplistic as it might be, I attempt to distill a few basic ingredients to develop my repertoire of Asian-flavored dishes. For instance, my Sichuan formula is a combination of garlic, dried hot chiles, soy sauce, vinegar and Sherry. Sometimes I finish the dish with a teaspoon of dark sesame oil.

My Thai formula is chopped jalapeno chiles, curry and coconut milk, always garnished with plenty of fresh cilantro. Fermented black beans, ginger and coconut milk is another good combination.

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These formulas do not pretend to be authentically Asian. Rather, they are my own personal culinary musings on Asian flavors--variations on a theme, if you will--meant to provide you with a dinner that doesn’t depend on a trip to Chinatown.

OMELET AND NOODLE DINNER

1/2 to 3/4 cup oil

1/2 cup bean sprouts

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2 celery stalks, thinly sliced

8 Chinese pea pods, trimmed and cut in fine julienne

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

1/2 pound diced cooked ham

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5 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch

9 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup water

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1/2 pound fresh Chinese noodles

Boiling salted water

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

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2 teaspoons minced peeled ginger root

1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper

2 cups fresh or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup bottled clam juice

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2 tablespoons rice or white vinegar

2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce

Cilantro sprigs

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in wok or skillet over high heat until nearly smoking. Quickly add bean sprouts, celery and pea pods. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Immediately transfer vegetables into bowl. Add green onions, ham and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Sprinkle in cornstarch and mix well. Mix in eggs and water. Set aside.

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Cook noodles 5 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain and set aside.

Combine sesame oil, garlic and ginger in soup pot. Place over low heat and cook 1 minute. Add crushed hot pepper, chicken broth, clam juice, remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce and vinegar. Cover. Increase heat to medium and boil 5 minutes.

Heat remaining oil (about 3/8-inch deep) in large skillet over high heat. Add 3-ounce ladles of egg mixture. Cook until edges puff, about 1 minute. Flip over and cook other side about 30 seconds. Remove omelets and drain on paper towels. Cover and keep warm while preparing rest.

When ready to serve, divide noodles and broth among 4 soup bowls. Make bed of shredded lettuce on large platter and arrange omelets on top. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Makes 4 servings.

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