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Dressed-up veggies

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Cilantro is the most fragrant and delicious herb used in Asian cooking. It is an absolute must in Asian cooking. It adds flavor to Thai cooking, Chinese cooking, Vietnamese cooking. It is amazing the power this simple-looking herb has on the flavor and taste of a dish. It just enhances everything that is part of the curry or the appetizers or the vegetables. It just has that magical quality.

A lot of Americans don't feel they have the time to do all the slicing and flavoring that is required for a good Asian dish. What could home cooks do to help them embrace these kinds of dishes?

I would say, prepare your own basic sauces because it is the easiest thing to do. All it takes is one trip to an Asian grocery store. Believe me, once you make your own curry sauce – Thai curry sauce, red curry sauce, green curry sauce – and then you compare it with the store-bought sauce, you will realize the difference in taste and the effort is well worth it.

How long would it take, from the prep work and all the way through to the completion, to prepare one of these full Asian-vegan meals?

I would say within an hour and 15 minutes I could prepare an entire meal – provided that I have all the ingredients.... I could make a meal with six dishes, including a starter, a soup, a main dish, a side dish, salad, everything. Once you have your ingredients ready, cooking is actually very quick. And easy.

Don't be in awe of your food, of your ingredients. Just be relaxed. You don't have to follow a recipe to the point of letting it stress you out. Cooking is not like baking, where a fraction of a teaspoon [too much] of any spice is going to damage a dish. Just be free to experiment and be flexible. The important thing is to enjoy cooking. And that is reflected in the flavor.

Can you recommend an Asian dish from your new cookbook for children, who don't always like spicy foods or vegetables?

I think children would like Sesame Potatoes from Indian cuisine. This is put together easily. All you require is a few boiled potatoes that you cut into bite-sized pieces. [Place oil in a frying pan], add some mustard seeds, and let them splatter. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds, because they give a nice pearly look to the dish once it is ready. Add all your spices ... a little bit of turmeric, 1 teaspoon of coriander powder, some chili powder, a little bit of garam masala, some salt and sugar, and toss your potatoes to let them brown evenly, about 5 to 7 minutes over medium-low heat. Once they are browned, garnish with fresh cilantro and they are ready. You can serve them with toothpicks as an appetizer or serve them as a side dish. They will love this dish.

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