It took a few years, but New Orleans appetites are almost as eager for Asian tastes as their own home-style cooking. The immigration of Vietnamese in the 1970s brought the cuisine to New Orleans, a major outpost of Vietnamese culture in the U.S. Thus, the local taste for pho, banh mi and rice noodles now rivals its hunger for red beans and poor boys. At the same time, Japanese and Thai restaurants are drawing heavy crowds, particularly young adults, and children are growing up with a taste for sushi.
Asian cooking is finding its way to home kitchens, and supermarkets are stocking more of its products. Metairie and Kenner are home to a growing number of Asian markets, and a huge, popular supermarket in Gretna, known as the Hong Kong Food Market, is devoted to Asian, predominately Vietnamese, food.
I can find everything I need for a quick pho, even having the beef sliced thin, at the market. Equally exciting is a Thai curry or Japanese tempura shrimp, both easy to shop for and simple enough to prepare.
Thai Red Curry with Shrimp
2 pounds shrimp in shells with heads, or 1 pound peeled
1 small onion, chopped
1 heaping Tablespoon minced ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
½ green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
2 carrots, cut into thin strips
1 ½ cups jasmine rice, cooked per package directions
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coconut oil
½ cup Thai red curry sauce or 3 Tablespoons Thai red curry paste
½ cup loosely packed Thai basil, preferably, or sweet basil, roughly torn
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
½ cup water
1 ½ teaspoons brown or raw sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
Salt and red pepper flakes or sriracha sauce, if needed, to taste
½ loosely packed cilantro, chopped
Prepare shrimp and vegetables. Put rice on to cook.
Melt coconut oil in a large skillet or medium pot. Sauté onion until transparent. Add ginger and garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add bell peppers and carrots, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add shrimp, curry, basil, coconut milk, water, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in additional seasonings, if needed, and cilantro.
Serve in bowls over rice with garnishes of basil and cilantro, if desired.
Serves 4 to 6
Note: 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into strips, about ¼-by-1 ½ inches can be substituted for shrimp
Vietnamese Pho Bo
1/2 pound eye of round beef, cut into wafer-thin slices
2 28-ounce Vietnamese spiced beef broth, such as Pho Bac Nuoc Leo
3 star anise
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
8 ounces rice noodles, also known as rice sticks
½ bunch green onions, chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro
Lime slices, bean sprouts, thin onion slices, sprigs of cilantro, slices of jalapeno pepper, Thai or sweet basil
A Vietnamese supermarket with a butcher can provide the thinly sliced meat needed for this dish. Otherwise, buy wafer-thin pieces of eye of round roast, cut them in half and pound until very thin. (I am told that a special blade is needed to cut the meat thin enough.)
Heat beef broth in a large, heavy pot on top of the stove. Add star anise, fish sauce and soy sauce, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, soak the rice noodles in a large bowl of cold water for about 30 minutes. Prepare vegetables that will be served on the side. Slice onion thinly, rinse whole cilantro and basil stems and pat dry and place on several plates for the table, along with bean sprouts, lime wedges and jalapeno peppers. Also, set the table with hoisin and sriracha sauces.
Just before serving, heat the broth to very hot, almost boiling. Drain noodles and scoop them into a large metal strainer and hold them in the broth to cook. This should take about 1 minute. Ladle broth into large soup bowls and add noodles to each. Drop several slices of meat, about 6, into each. Or, serve meat on the side for diners to add gradually, along with condiments. The meat will cook in the hot broth. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 very large servings; for smaller servings, divide amongst 4 bowls as a first course
Japanese Shrimp Tempura
1 pound large shrimp
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
1 cup very cold water
1 egg yolk
1 cup all-purpose flour
Remove heads of shrimp, peel and devein, leaving on the tails. Make 2 or 3 shallow slits across the inner side of the shrimp if you don’t want them to curl. Pat dry and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside until you’ve made the dipping sauce.
To prepare dipping sauce mix soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar and ginger in a small bowl. Set aside.
Start heating 3 inches of oil in a skillet or electric fryer as you begin preparing the shrimp. The temperature should reach 375 degrees by the time you have several shrimp ready to fry.
Meanwhile, place water in a medium bowl. Add egg yolk and mix well. Gently stir in flour and mix lightly, leaving the mixture a little lumpy.
Dredge shrimp in batter, shake off any excess and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes. You may want to fry in 2 or 3 batches, but make sure the temperature is 360 degrees at the beginning of each batch.
Makes about a dozen shrimp, serving 4 people as an appetizer