- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003


The cuisines of Southeast Asia have their own exciting range of ingredients and seasonings, from piquant to pungent. Their flavors and tastes are becoming increasingly familiar, especially as chefs and restaurants tempt us to try new variations.

Mai Pham is one such influential taste-maker. Born in Vietnam, she is chef-owner of the Lemon Grass Restaurant in Sacramento, Calif., which specializes in Vietnamese and Thai cooking. She’s also the author of “Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table” (HarperCollins).

She talked recently about Southeast Asian cooking at Vong restaurant in New York and introduced a menu of recipes from her repertoire in collaboration with Vong’s executive chef, Pierre Schutz, and the National Peanut Board.

Yes, peanuts are among ingredients in her dishes.

“What can I do that doesn’t use peanuts?” Mai Pham asked with a laugh. “We use them in so many ways in Vietnam.” They could, for example, make the topping for a salad, provide substance in a stew, be part of a dessert recipe and often be around just for snacks, she said.

The following recipes include a quickly made salmon dish, which she says is ideal for summer with its light and tangy dressing. Make the sauce first; the rest of the dish will take less than 30 minutes to put together. There also is a recipe for a roasted peanut snack.

Pan-seared salmon with ginger-lime sauce and peanuts

cup vegetable oil

4 6- to 7-ounce skinless salmon fillets

2 cloves garlic, sliced

3 cups Asian celery or hothouse cucumbers (seeded), cut lengthwise into thin strands, soaked in cold water to crisp, then completely drained

⅓ cup chopped Asian basil

⅔ cup ginger-lime sauce (recipe follows)

3 tablespoons chopped, roasted peanuts

Heat the vegetable oil in a large nonstick frying pan over moderate heat. Cook the salmon fillets (2 pieces at a time) until they’re golden and just done, 3 to 4 minutes on each side depending on the thickness.

About 2 minutes before the salmon is done, add the garlic slices to the oil to flavor the fish. (If the fillets are thick, cover and cook a few minutes longer.) Remove the salmon and garlic and drain on paper towels.

Combine the celery with the basil in a small bowl, Place a small amount of the celery mixture on individual plates. Arrange the salmon fillet on top, garnish with the celery mixture and sprinkle a few pieces of the cooked garlic on top. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the ginger-lime sauce, top with peanuts and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.


1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

3 Thai bird chilies or 1 serrano chili, chopped

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons minced ginger

3 tablespoons fish sauce (see note)

3 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons water

Combine the garlic, chilies, sugar, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice and water in a small bowl and stir well. Let the flavors develop by setting the sauce aside for 30 minutes before serving. Makes about 1 cup.

Note: Fish sauce, known as nuoc mam, is the quintessential seasoning in Vietnamese cooking. Varieties are available in Asian markets.

Spicy roasted peanuts with green onions

2 cups freshly roasted peanuts, home-roasted or store-bought

cup sugar

1 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoons kosher salt or to taste

5 whole star anise, lightly pan-roasted, then processed in a spice mill, or 1 tablespoon five-spice powder

1 tablespoon red chili powder or to taste

cup chopped green onions

Place the peanuts and sugar in a nonstick pan over moderate heat. Stir until the sugar starts to melt, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drizzle the oil on the peanuts, then add the salt, star anise powder and chili powder.

Stir another 3 to 5 minutes. (The sugar on the peanuts will start to harden and become crunchy.) Remove the peanuts from the heat and immediately add the green onions. Toss several times and transfer to a cookie sheet to cool. Makes 2 cups.


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