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Flavors of Asia

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Written by Carolyn Jung   
ImageOver the years, I've been lucky enough to attend a couple of the "Worlds of Flavor: Asia'' food conferences at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.

The institute flies in chefs from all over Asia, some of whom have never even been on a plane before, let alone visited the Napa Valley. They come to demonstrate their regional specialties and to give us a glimpse of the culinary magic to be found in all parts of the world -- cosmopolitan or rural, rich or poor, traditional or modern.

Besides cooking demos, and topical seminars, there is a huge marketplace set up every day, in which the barrel room of the old stone building is transformed into a veritable street-food court. Conference goers can roam to their heart's - and stomach's content - trying everything from bowls of Singaporean laksa to freshly made Japanese udon to Vietnamese steamed rice cake dumplings to Indian curries of every hue.

The new Culinary Institute cookbook "The Flavors of Asia" brings those great pungent, spicy, bold flavors to life in recipes from more than 40 of India's, Asia's, and the United States' top chefs.

Unless you have a very well-stocked pantry, you'll probably have to make a trip or two to your nearest Asian market before trying many of the recipes that require such ingredients as Indian toor dal, chickpea flour, Korean chili powder, fresh galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.

One minor quibble is that the book isn't always as clear as it could be. For instance, the recipe for Lamb Shank in Massamun Curry calls for 5 tablespoons Massamun curry paste. But nowhere in the recipe does it mention that you'll find another recipe for the curry paste at the back of the book. This problem happens again with a recipe for Spicy Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup that calls for 2 tablespoons of roasted chili jam (nam prik phao). If you're not familiar with that condiment, you might go scurrying to an Asian market to find it, not realizing that once again at the back of the book is a recipe for it.

I decided to try my hand at cooking Masala Shrimp. It's one of the easiest recipes in the book; it's so simple that you could even whip it up on a harried weeknight.

Just marinate shrimp in a blend of turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper. The recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of cayenne. But using only half that amount resulted in quite a spicy dish. So if you're a wimp when it comes to tongue-tingling dishes, you might want to use even less cayenne.

Sauté the shrimp one or two minutes per side. Place in a serving dish, and top with cilantro leaves, a squirt of lime, and chopped avocado. That's all there is to it.

The dish is intended to be an appetizer. But my husband and I enjoyed it as a main dish, alongside tender ovals of Trader Joe's garlic naan. It made for a really killer combination. The creamy, soft avocado was a perfect foil to the spicy, crunchy shrimp. The lime and cilantro added zing and brightness.

I loved the ease of the dish so much that I'm definitely adding this recipe to my list of go-to, weeknight ones.

The cookbook is a great souvenir for anyone who's enjoyed a "Worlds of Flavor'' conference at the Culinary Institute.  And for those who haven't, it's definitely an inducement to make a beeline to the next one.

Shrimp Masala

From The Flavors of Asia by Culinary Institute of America and Mai Pham. DK Publishing, 2009.

Serves 8

  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper or Indian chili powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 lb 8 oz shrimp (26-30 count), peeled and deveined
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 key lime, cut into eighths
  • 24 cilantro leaves
  • 1 small avocado, cut into small-dice (optional)

1.    Combine the cayenne or chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Rub the spice mixture onto the shrimp. Set aside for 15 to 30 minutes.

2.    Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Fry the shrimp in the oil until they lose their translucency, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Do not overcook.

3.    Serve at once, garnished with the lime, cilantro leaves, and avocado.

About The Flavors of Asia

Image The Flavors of Asia culls recipes from 40 of India's, Asia's, and the US's leading chefs, from Morimoto to Suvir Saran. By transforming the "Worlds of Flavor" festival into a cookbook, the Culinary Institute of America-one of the best culinary schools in the world-brings the conference's superb culinary talent right into the home kitchen. Award-winning restauranteur, chef, and author Mai Pham joins the CIA in presenting 125 accessible recipes, from Ammini Ramachandran's Spicy Tuvar Fritters served with Coconut Chutney to Fuchsia Dunlop's Quick Hong Kong Noodle Soup with Roast Duck, from Sam Leong's Wok-fried Chili Shrimp with Sambal Spice to Elizabeth Andoh's Salmon Teriyaki. The chefs' cooking techniques and regional notes appear in feature spreads throughout the book. An enthusiastic foreword by regional consultants Suvir Saran, Hiroko Shimbo, and Fuchsia Dunlop, and an introduction by Mai Pham describe Asia's rising influence on world cooking round out this must-have book.

Available at

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.


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