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Finding Balance

A Lafayette chef promotes harmony in cooking—and life.


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Photos by Lucy SchaefferAfter lunch at a distinguished Asian restaurant, Ying Compestine weighs in. She would slice the beef thinner, serve the salmon in lettuce cups, cut the sodium in the broccoli, and add goji berries to the coconut custard.

But our mix of foods was fine, she points out. The meat was yang, the broccoli was yin, and our fish and toasted rice tea were neutral.

Promoting proper balance is central to Compestine’s latest cookbook, Cooking With an Asian Accent. Readers will learn how each season calls for a different mix of yin and yang ingredients, and how food choices are best informed by one’s health. When considering balance, even cooking techniques come into play.

In spring, for example, when our bodies need restorative cleansing (which requires more yin), steaming foods is favored. For maximum effect, Compestine suggests using green tea as the steaming liquid.

“Steam lightly to bring out the bright colors. And then stop,” she says. “If anybody wants to eat healthy, they should consider steaming.”

Compestine’s cookbook draws from what she calls an “East-meets-West pantry,” a concept that’s helpful for readers new to Asian cuisine. With personal stories and insights prefacing each straightforward recipe, Compestine brings us on a journey from her upbringing in Wuhan, China, to her eventual settling in the East Bay.

“I use food as a metaphor to tie everything together,” says Compestine, a celebrated author of five cookbooks and three novels. “Food is always the metaphor.”

Her 23rd wedding anniversary dinner menu reflects the recipes found in Cooking With an Asian Accent: salmon with ginger-soy marinade, stir-fried tofu, bok choy, and forbidden rice (a nutty, deep-purple grain). Her husband will surely go along; he loves everything she cooks.  

“When we got married, we decided he would make all the big decisions, and I would make the small ones. So far, we haven’t had any big decisions,” Compestine says with a smile.

Check out recipes from Cooking With an Asian Accent below. 

 

 

 

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Rose Petals

This soothing, cooling soup is loaded with ingredients such as cooling cucumbers, soy yogurt, and mint. It will nourish your skin and maintain its moisture during summer. Serve it on hot days to counteract the irritating effects of excessive heat and humidity. I use organic roses from my garden. If you don’t grow your own, make sure the rose petals used for cooking are pesticide-free.

Makes 4 servings
2 cups plain soy yogurt
3 Japanese or 1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt
Small petals from the center of an organically grown, pesticide-free rose, for garnish
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish

Place the yogurt, cucumber, mint, lemon juice, and cumin in a blender and purée until smooth. Season with salt to taste. Divide equally among four bowls. Garnish with the rose petals and mint leaves.


 

Curry-Coconut Shrimp

Shrimp absorbs the flavors of a marinade rapidly, making this quick entrée ideal for a busy weeknight. Steaming gently cooks the shrimp and reduces the likelihood of overcooking. Regular coconut milk offers the best flavor for this dish, as the taste of light coconut milk is too subtle. I often serve it over brown rice or whole wheat noodles.

Makes 4 servings
¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons seeded and finely chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1½ pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups cooked brown rice
4 lemon wedges, for serving
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish (optional)

1. Combine the coconut milk, fish sauce, lemon juice, bell pepper, minced cilantro, sugar, and curry powder in a 10-inch glass pie plate. Add the shrimp, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Bring water to a boil over high heat in a covered steamer or pot large enough to hold the pie plate. Wearing oven mitts, carefully place the pie plate into the steamer. Cover, lower the heat to medium, and steam for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the shrimp are just cooked through.

3. Using oven mitts, carefully lift the lid of the steamer away from you, and remove the pie plate from the steamer. Serve the shrimp over the brown rice. Garnish with the lemon wedges and cilantro sprigs, if using.

Excerpted from COOKING WITH AN ASIAN ACCENT, © 2014 by Ying Compestine. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


 

Green Beans with Golden Raisins

This recipe exemplifies how Western ingredients—raisins and Parmesan cheese—can be combined with Eastern flavors such as sesame seeds and fragrant tea. Chinese doctors believe green beans tone the kidneys and strengthen the spleen. Raisins are a good source of potassium, a mineral shown to lower high blood pressure. Golden raisins are a vibrant complement to the green beans and black sesame seeds, but other varieties can be substituted.

Makes 6 servings
2 green or white tea bags
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
¼ cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted (see note)
¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

1. Bring water to a boil over high heat in a covered steamer or pot large enough to hold a 10-inch glass pie plate. Add the tea bags to the water. Arrange the green beans on the pie plate.

2. Wearing oven mitts, carefully place the pie plate into the steamer. Cover, lower the heat to medium-high, and steam until the beans are bright green, about 4 minutes.

3. Using oven mitts, carefully lift the lid of the steamer away from you and sprinkle the raisins onto the green beans. Re-cover and steam for 1 minute more. Using oven mitts, carefully lift the lid of the steamer away from you, and remove the pie plate from the steamer.

3. In a large salad bowl, toss the green beans and raisins with the rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.

4. Garnish with the shaved cheese and serve immediately.

Note: Sesame seeds can be purchased already toasted, but to toast your own, preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Spread the sesame seeds out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the sesame seeds are crisp and fragrant. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn.

All recipes were excerpted from Cooking With An Asian Accent, © 2014 by Ying Compestine. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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