When entertaining, we are always trying to think of something different. That's why I love preparing an Asian menu: The "wow" factor is huge, the amount of effort needed is small, and because of the variety of natural flavors in Asian culture, the food is delicious and still healthy.
Asian cuisine and decor is very simple and precise, and the smallest effort will make your evening that much more authentic. If you're in a major city, check out Chinatown or an Asian neighborhood; smaller towns may have Asian food markets instead. Pick up a few simple decorations, such as paper lanterns, an ornate tablecloth or window dressings, and serving pieces such as bamboo steamers, enamel chopsticks, and rice bowls.
When your guests arrive, be ready with bite-size snacks: steamed or microwaved edamame (packed with estrogen-like isoflavones, which can help prevent cancer), sprinkled with coarse salt; wasabi peas; and sesame sticks. They all can be found at natural food markets and will make all the difference in the world. A light cocktail, like my signature lychee martini, or store-bought sake will also help transport your guests to the Far East, and prepare them for your delicious menu.
Appetizer: Steamed dumplings and salad
For no-fuss hors d'oeuvres that are perfect for passing around the room, I pick up a healthy assortment of vegetable, pork, and shrimp dumplings from Costco, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's. I steam them, drizzle with a low-sodium soy sauce or yuzu (found in any supermarket), and top them with thinly sliced scallions and black sesame seeds. For an added touch—and less mess for your guests—serve each dumpling on a flat-bottom wonton spoon (often sold by the dozen).
Once your guests are seated, bring out the salad. All major supermarkets have an Asian or mixed green prepackaged, prewashed mix—just add your favorite touches such as water chestnuts, cashews, and shredded cabbage, and top with my delicious ginger dressing.
[ pagebreak ]Main course: Asian sea bass
Many restaurants make a sweet-glazed black cod that has become a favorite; however, it is quite sugary and fatty. My own version of this particular dish is a simple recipe for Asian sea bass with black, red, or jasmine sticky rice (which can be purchased at the grocery store), and—of course, something green—sesame sugar snap peas.
To make the sea bass, marinate 5-ounce whole fillets for at least three hours in this mixture: 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3 tablespoons sugar or honey, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons white wine, 1/4 teaspoon minced ginger, 1/4 teaspoon garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Broil the fish (no extra marinade) on a sheet pan for 10 minutes.
While your fish is cooking, coat a nonstick pan with non-toasted sesame oil, then add 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil, 2 cups sugar snap peas, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and salt and pepper. Saute for a few minutes over medium/high heat until your peas are a vibrant green, and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.
Dessert: Get personal with fortune cookies
After dinner, green tea is an antioxidant-packed option; however, let your guests know that it contains caffeine. For a decaf option, serve orange blossom tea or another herbal blend, with orange honey.
Now you can send your guests home with a fun souvenir—a fortune cookie! If you really want to get cute, you can order personalized messages or themed cookies online. Dish them out on saucers alongside tiny cups of green tea, pineapple, or coconut ice cream or sorbet. Serve with some candied ginger or a drizzle of chocolate sauce, a spot of whipped cream, or a few slivered almonds. To keep the dessert traditional, though, small portions are key. Asian cooking aims to fill you up on flavors, not fat, and your guests should leave the table feeling satisfied but not stuffed.