Tortillas, lettuce leaves, pancakes, noodles -- whatever you use, it's a wrap

July 18, 1993|By Peter D. Franklin

What do a Russian blintz, a Scotch egg, a Jewish knish and a Mexican burrito have in common? Would the answer come any easier if I added an American peach pie?

You go to the head of the cooking class if you identified them all as foods that are wrapped. If you flunked the quiz, perhaps you need to get yourself a copy of "Cooking Under Wraps: The Art of Wrapping Hors d'Oeuvres, Main Courses, and Desserts" by Nicole Routhier (Morrow, $27).

In 1989, Ms. Routhier's first cookbook, "The Foods of Vietnam" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), was published, and it was an award-winning hit. Her second book is equally creative and contemporary.

As a child in Southeast Asia, Ms. Routhier encountered many dishes that were wrapped with lettuce, noodles or rice paper. Later she moved to Europe, where menus were filled with examples of wrapped food, such as Greek stuffed grape leaves.

In selecting the more than 200 recipes for this book, "I have hTC chosen favorite dishes to show both the traditional ways wrapped foods are enjoyed in different cultures and how contemporary concepts can be borrowed to extend their appeal," she writes. Many recipes, she says, represent new combinations of ingredients and cooking techniques that she has created.

Prehistoric man, she reminds us, slowly learned how to mix ground grains and water into a dough and then cook it on hot stones, creating a flat cake. "Thus, flatbreads may have been the first convenience food in history. . . . Today's Mexican tortilla and Indian chapati, the Chinese po ping, and the American pancake are all direct descendants of those early unleavened flatbreads."

From this early beginning, Ms. Routhier creates the likes of chocolate mango tortillas, spiced lamb curry in yogurt bread, strawberry empanadas and something she calls Chinese Griddle Cakes Gone American, filling them with eggs, heavy cream, scallions, cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Ms. Routhier takes great care -- almost to a fault -- to explain each and every step of the preparation process. As a result, many of the recipes might discourage the less dedicated cooks because they appear to be complicated.

Most are not, but each requires considerable attention. Ms. Routhier helps out with tips for planning ahead and cook's notes when necessary. There also are some diagrams showing how a wrapper is to be folded to properly enclose the filling.

Aside from wordiness and a slip or two in the indexing, "Cooking Under Wraps" deserves attention. It clearly is one of the top cookbooks for 1993.

*

This recipe, which can be assembled a day ahead, uses flank steak, a popular cut of meat. A butcher can butterfly the steak if you don't want to bother doing it yourself in the recipe below.

Grilled rotolo of flank steak with mozzarella

Makes 1 large roll, enough for 4 main-course servings.

1- to 2-pound flank steak, trimmed of fat

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices

olive oil, for brushing

Butterfly the steak: Place the steak on a cutting board and hold it firmly so it does not slide, placing your palm on the top surface. Using a long, sharp knife, slice into the steak along one long side and cut it horizontally almost in half, but not quite all the way through (leaving about 1/2 inch uncut on the far side). As you cut, lift the upper meat flap to have a better view of what you are doing. Open the steak like a book (its shape will be similar to that of a butterfly) and place it between two large sheets of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or the flat side of a meat cleaver, pound the meat to flatten it slightly. Remove the plastic wraps.

Assemble the rotolo: Sprinkle salt and pepper over the meat. Combine the garlic and parsley and spread the mixture over the meat. Arrange the mozzarella slices in a single layer over the steak. Check the way in which the grain of the meat runs, and position the meat so that the grain runs horizontally. Starting from the bottom, roll the steak up tightly into a thick cylinder. Tie the roll securely with butcher's twine at 2-inch intervals and brush with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and set aside until ready to grill.

Cook the rotolo: Place the rotolo on the grill 4 inches above the heat, cover, and grill until medium rare and the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. (The time will vary slightly depending on the thickness of the meat.) Baste occasionally with olive oil and turn to brown on all sides.

Remove the beef roll to a cutting board and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Remove the string and cut the roll into 1-inch slices. Transfer to warm dinner plates and serve.

Peter D. Franklin

) Universal Press Syndicate

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