Scholar-cook creates East-West recipes

January 24, 1993|By Ellen Creager | Ellen Creager,Knight-Ridder News Service

Barbara Tropp will enter the 1993 Chinese New Year Saturday still a curious mix of Chinese soul and Western-born heart.

Even the plucky Year of the Rooster can't unruffle that discombobulation.

"I grew up in the typical neurotic suburban Jewish home, where diets and Danish went together," says Ms. Tropp, a former scholar of eighth century Chinese poetry who was born in New Jersey but spent several years living in Taiwan.

Now, "I am probably more Chinese inside than would be comfortable to most Americans. Philosophically speaking, Chinese culture has fed my soul."

Ms. Tropp first came on the culinary scene with her definitive book of Chinese cooking techniques, "The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking" (William Morrow, $30). Now she brings us "Chinese bistro" cooking, which is a cross between home-style northern Chinese and American dishes. She serves a mostly non-Chinese clientele in her San Francisco restaurant, China Moon.

Her hefty new collection of recipes, "China Moon Cookbook" (Workman, $14.95), "is not a cookbook for people wanting to replicate mu shu pork at home," Ms. Tropp says. "It's not for someone looking for Hong Kong-style banquet food."

Instead, it combines Eastern tastes and techniques with Western interpretation and ingredients: wok-seared fresh tuna; chili-orange cold noodles; fresh ginger ice cream with bittersweet chocolate sauce.

It may not be what everyone wants on Chinese New Year, when popular dishes heavily symbolize traditions of gold coins, food of wholeness, the balance of the universe and cosmic chaos. But it might be just right for others -- a surprising meal symbolizing fulfillment in one efficient dish, with easy-to-find American ingredients.

"I love Chinese New Year," says Ms. Tropp, but she won't be cooking a whole banquet. "I'm a one-dish kind of girl."

This year, adventurous cooks can mark the Year of the Rooster with Barbara Tropp's wok-seared tuna from "China Moon."

Wok-seared tuna

Serves 4.

2/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

red chili flakes to taste

2 teaspoons sugar

2 quarter-size coins fresh ginger, peeled, ends removed, smashed

MA 3 green onions, washed, ends removed, cut into 1-inch nuggets

and smashed

1 pound fresh tuna (ahi or yellowfin is best), cut 1/2 -inch thick, then into 2 1/2 - to 3-inch triangular steaks

1 1/2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for searing

4 cups cooked rice

In a small bowl or plastic bag combine soy sauce, rice wine or dry sherry, sesame oil, red chili flakes, sugar, ginger, and green onions. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes to infuse. Place the tuna in the bowl or plastic bag and marinate 15 minutes, turning tuna once or twice. Remove tuna from marinade. (At this point tuna may be sealed and refrigerated overnight.) Discard marinade.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of corn or peanut oil, swirl to glaze the pan and heat until nearly smoking. Add tuna pieces, making sure not to crowd the pan (which will lower the heat and inhibit a good sear). If all of the pieces do not fit, clean the pan and repeat the process. Sear briefly until the tuna is browned and a bit charred at the edge, 30 to 60 seconds. Turn to brown the other side, another 15 to 30 seconds. For best flavor, tuna should be very rare in the center. Remove tuna to a wire rack so it does not continue cooking.

Serve over rice if desired.

Nutrition details per serving, without rice: 195 calories; 34 percent calories from fat; 7 grams fat; 27 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrate; 51 milligrams cholesterol; 564 milligrams sodium. Diabetic exchanges: 2 1/4 lean meat, 1/4 vegetable, 1 1/4 fat.

Nutrition details per serving, with rice: 464 calories; 16 percent of calories from fat; 8 grams fat; 33 grams protein; 61 grams carbohydrate; 51 milligrams cholesterol; 568 milligrams sodium. Diabetic exchanges: 2 1/4 lean meat, 1/4 vegetable, 3 3/4 bread, 1 1/4 fat.

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