Put Extra Zing as Well as Nutrition in Dishes the Southeast Asian Way: Add Fruit

American Institute for Cancer Research
Thursday, 28 August 2003

The Southeast Asian practice of adding fruit to otherwise savory dishes boosts the cancer-protective features of a meal, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). In Southeast Asia, fruit is used to supply the sweet element in the hot-sour-salty-bitter-sweet balance that cooks strive to achieve.

"Although fruit is sometimes added to Western meat dishes, it's usually a minor note," says Melanie Polk, AICR's Director of Nutrition Education. "Tart fruits, for example, are especially used to offset the fattiness of meats like pork or duck. But many Southeast Asian cooks use a more generous proportion of fruit – a smart health practice to follow."

Adding Fruit to Non-Desserts Creates More Flavor, More Texture

Polk notes that fruits are not only used in entrées, but in starters as well. For example, Vietnamese fish soup frequently includes pineapple along with tomatoes and bean sprouts. Thai versions of stir-fried rice often incorporate pineapple as well. And fruit is a key feature in Chinese sweet-and-sour dishes.

Polk also observes that Southeast Asian cooks like to add fruit to a dish in order to vary the texture as well as add depth of flavor. The inclusion of fruit also adds a fun, pleasant surprise.

Depending on the type, fruit can offer a different note of flavor to a dish. Bosc or Asian pears as well as apples add a delicate sweetness and crunch. Pineapple, berries, grapes, oranges and grapefruit produce bursts of tangy, citrus taste. And a full-mouth, often subtly rich taste is achieved with mangos, plums, persimmons, peaches and nectarines.

Adding Fruit to an Entrée Achieves a Better Balance of Plant-Based Foods to Meat

A diet focused mostly on plant-based foods supplies a greater amount and array of phytochemicals than one in which animal meats predominate. In their work to help prepare AICR's landmark report, Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, scientists reviewed more than 4,500 studies on the connection between diet and cancer. They found convincing evidence that diets high in vegetables and/or fruits protect against many different types of cancers.

Conversely, diets high in red meat probably increase the risk of colon cancer. Animal fats have been linked to cancers of the prostate, endometrium, breast, lungs, colon and rectum.

AICR recommends that your plate contain two-thirds (or more) of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains and beans, and one-third (or less) of animal meats. Southeast Asian dishes generally follow those proportions. As the following recipes illustrate, the addition of fruit to one-pot entrées and other Western dishes can be easily imitated.

The following recipes include turkey wraps that can be used for snacks, lunches, or dinner entrées, and a stir-fry that's colorful, flavor-rich and filling.

Turkey Wraps Indochine with Dipping Sauce

Wrap Ingredients

2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. fresh orange juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 thin flour tortillas or Asian rice wrappers
8 oz. thinly sliced turkey*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce
1 cup very thinly sliced jicama
1 cup thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup chopped mango* (about 1 large mango)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 ripe avocado, thinly sliced

Dipping Sauce

1 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce ("naam pla")
3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. sugar, or to taste
2 tsp. finely minced peeled fresh gingerroot
1 Tbsp. finely shredded fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together curry paste, mayonnaise and juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Prepare wraps by lightly warming them over an open flame, in a non-stick skillet, or in a microwave. Place wraps on a work surface and spread top surface of each with the mayonnaise mixture.

Add rest of the ingredients, placing them on the tortillas halfway between edges and the center, starting with one-eighth of the turkey in the center of each tortilla. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Top turkey with 1/8 cup (2 Tbsp.) jicama and 1/8 cup zucchini. Place 1/4 cup lettuce on top. Top with 1/8 cup mango and one-eighth of the avocado. Sprinkle lightly with cilantro. Fold edge of tortilla on top and roll up tightly, enclosing filling completely. Repeat process with remaining wraps. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap. Briefly refrigerate 15 to 20 minutes, or up to 4 hours. (Bring cold wraps to room temperature before serving.)

In the meantime, make the Dipping Sauce by whisking together in a bowl the fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, sugar, ginger, mint and coriander. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Makes 1/3 cup.)

To serve, remove plastic wrap and use a very sharp knife to cut wraps. Cut wraps at an angle into 3 or 4 slices. Arrange on a serving plate. Divide dipping sauce between individual small bowls, one per serving.

Makes 8 servings.

*Chicken or ham can be substituted for the turkey. Firm peaches or nectarines can be substituted for the mango.

Per serving: 366 calories, 10 g. fat (2 g. saturated fat), 53 g. carbohydrate, 14 g. protein, 5 g. dietary fiber, 703 mg. sodium.

Southeast Asian-Style Stir-Fry with Sauce

Marinade for Chicken

2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut in thin bite-size pieces

Sauce Thickener

1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth or stock
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/2-2 Tbsp. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (according to taste),
or reduced-sodium soy sauce, to taste
1/4-1/2 tsp. (or more, according to taste) dried chili flakes

Stir-Fry Ingredients

1 lb. sweet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Marinated chicken
2 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
2-3 large cloves garlic (or according to taste), peeled and minced
2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup canned whole water chestnuts, drained and sliced
1 Asian pear*, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup (packed) fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, for garnish

Make marinade by mixing together the soy sauce, sugar and mirin in a glass, plastic or non-reactive metal pan large enough to hold the chicken. Mix in chicken and marinate up to 30 minutes at room temperature or, covered, up to overnight in the refrigerator. If chilled, bring chicken to room temperature before beginning to stir-fry.

Before beginning to cook, mix sauce thickener in a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir or whisk together cornstarch with broth until well blended. Stir in fish sauce or soy sauce, according to taste. Stir in chili flakes according to taste. Set aside.

Just before beginning to stir-fry, bring water in a large pot to a boil. Add sweet potatoes, lower heat to a simmer and cook until half-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain potatoes into a colander and set aside.

While sweet potatoes cook and drain, remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towelling.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger and cayenne. Sauté 15 seconds or until garlic turns color. Add chicken to skillet and stir-fry until just cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes or until juices run clear. Transfer contents of pan to a bowl.

Heat second tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add drained sweet potatoes, bell pepper and water chestnuts. Stirring constantly, stir-fry until bell peppers are not quite crisp tender and sweet potatoes are not quite tender, about 3 minutes.

Add chicken mixture, pear and spinach. Stir-fry, stirring constantly, just until spinach is wilted.

Stir sauce thickener to re-blend and stir into stir-fry. Continue stirring and tossing food just until sauce becomes clear and thickened. Immediately remove from heat.

Serve garnished with cilantro leaves, accompanied by hot steamed rice and Vietnamese Table Sauce as a condiment to add individually, as desired.

Makes 8 servings.

*If Asian pears are not available, the Bosc variety can be substituted.

Per serving: 197 calories, 4 g. fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat), 24 g. carbohydrate, 16 g. protein, 4 g. dietary fiber, 563 mg. sodium.

Vietnamese Table Sauce

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. plain, unseasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 bird chile, minced, or 1 serrano chile, very thinly sliced
1/2 Tbsp. (about) shredded or grated carrot (optional)

Combine all ingredients except the carrot in a bowl. Stir to dissolve sugar completely. Add carrot. Let stand at least an hour to allow flavors to meld. Store tightly sealed in refrigerator up to 3 days.

Makes a scant 1 cup, or about 14 tablespoons.

Per tablespoon: 7 calories, 0 g. fat (0 g. saturated fat), 2 g. carbohydrate, 0 g. protein, 0 g. dietary fiber, 497 mg. sodium.

For more information, or to contact American Institute for Cancer Research, see their website at: www.aicr.org

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