Ethnic Inspirations Innovations: Asian, Latin and European twists make a world of difference in warm-weather classics.

July 10, 1996|By Pat Dailey | Pat Dailey,KNIGHT-RIDDER TRIBUNE

In yesterday's A La Carte section, an incorrect amount of vinegar was listed in the recipe for Potato Salad and Prosciutto. The correct amount is one-quarter of a cup.

The Sun regrets the error.

Summer food has its own set of edible icons, recipes that show up as predictably as daffodils in spring and football games in the fall.

Grilled burgers, potato salad, barbecue sauces, bean salads and fruit cobblers are some of the most enduringly popular entries of the season.


Do we love them? You bet! They're comforting in their familiarity and timeless in appeal.

But there's a changing face to what Americans are cooking and eating. Ethnic cuisines have enlarged our culinary boundaries in delicious ways. With everything from salsa to satay, rice papers to radicchio, there are plenty of new tastes in America.

We asked a handful of chefs known for their ethnic approach for new takes on summer classics. They came up with the following recipes that may soon be classics in their own right. In the meantime, they are perfect for adding sizzle to the season.

Hamburgers: Simple enough -- shape some patties, slap them over red-hot embers and add cheese, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles as you wish. They're no stranger to innovation, though, with backyard barbecuers conjuring up all kinds of variations. Arun Sampanthavivat, a chef specializing in fine Thai cuisine, jumped at the chance to flip hamburgers out of their tried-and-true role. And though he admits to liking American food for its clean, spare tastes, his burgers are anything but the same old grind. The new classic burgers he created get their Thai flavor from lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves.

Potato salad: These are never easy to categorize. There are creamy renditions with celery, green onions and hard-cooked eggs; warm, bacony ones and a battalion that has already marched off into new territory, adding cilantro, sausage, pesto sauce or bits of blue cheese. Chef Jon Novak stretches the concept all the way to Italy. His version includes prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, arugula and a welcome burst of fresh basil.

Three-bean salad: Kidney beans, green beans and waxed beans are the makings of the most typical three-bean salads. Bound together with sliced onions and a sweet/tart dressing, they've been a welcome part of summer spreads for generations.

French chef Jean Marc Loustaunau took on this favorite, pitting tradition against new tastes. He used only two types of beans, adding some couscous in lieu of the third. A refreshingly light, delicate taste comes from using vegetable juice to soften the couscous. The net result is a contemporary version that can even be served for a light lunch on steamy summer days.

Barbecue sauce: The darling of summertime cooking, a sassy sauce spruces up slabs of ribs, chicken drumsticks, sliced pork sandwiches -- and that's just for starters.

While most barbecue sauces are tomato-based, Mexican chef Priscilla Satkoff's turns up the heat -- and the interest -- with dried ancho chilies.

She suggests using it as a marinade or lavishly brushing it on just about anything that lands on the grill.

Peach crisp: Peaches are elementally summer. Juicy, fragrant and irresistible, they beg to be eaten whenever possible.

One of their greatest partnerships finds tree-ripened, local peaches baked under a sweet, rich crumbly topping in the summer favorite known as a crisp. Chef Emilio Gervilla agrees but also suggests that his Spanish roots can work their way into peach crisp quite nicely. His changes are subtly effective, vaguely echoing that classic Spanish drink, sangria. Mango adds a tropical taste while wine-plumped dried cherries bring a tart burst of flavor.

Thai-style hamburgers

Makes 8 burgers

3 ounces (3 slices) white bread

hot water

2 pounds ground pork

1 large egg, lightly beaten

6 kaffir lime leaves, finely minced, see note

1/2 cup finely minced lemon grass

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon tapioca flour or cornstarch

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/4 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon each: minced garlic, salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon each: white pepper, paprika, sugar

all-purpose flour

for serving: hamburger rolls, fresh basil, mint and/or cilantro leaves; chili paste, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber slices, onions

Put bread into a large bowl and cover with water; soak 10 minutes. Squeeze dry and mix bread to a paste. Add all remaining ingredients except flour and serving accompaniments; mix lightly.

Shape into eight patties, flouring your hands, if necessary. Grill, 6 inches from medium-hot coals, turning once, until no longer pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve on buns with accompaniments of your choice.

Note: Kaffir lime leaves, used in Thai and Laotian cooking, are highly aromatic, with a floral, lemon-lime taste. Usually packaged in 1-ounce bags, they are available at Thai markets.

Per burger: 430 calories, 695 mg sodium, 22 g fat, 30 g carbohydrates, 105 mg cholesterol, 26 g protein

Potato salad and prosciutto

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