Sunday, December 11, 2016

Raghavan Iyer's Tribute to a Potato

Phyllis Louise Harris
December 2016 

“I never met a potato I didn’t like,” is a favorite expression of Mumbai native, Minnesota resident and cookbook author Raghavan Iyer. So it is not surprising that he has wanted to create a potato cookbook for years. “Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked…and Fried, Too!” is the result. A collection of seventy-five recipes to enhance the lowly spud was published by Workman Publishing this fall and is now available in bookstores.

This simple vegetable has sustained entire countries, fed cattle, been dumped in the ocean as garbage, was the reason for several wars and its absence caused millions to die of starvation. First cultivated in the mountains of Peru, potatoes made their way to Europe with the Spanish conquerors then on to Asia with Spanish and Portuguese traders looking for exotic spices. Today potatoes are the fourth largest crop in the world after wheat, rice and corn.

The United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato creating a flood of potato cookbooks including one sponsored by the Chinese government, “How Chinese Eat Potatoes.” Iyer takes the potato on a world tour and includes influences from some of the 100 countries now enjoying his favorite food.

One of my favorites is a dish I learned in one of Florence Lin’s Chinese cooking classes. Iyer calls them Bird’s Nests but they are not to be confused with actual bird’s nests the Chinese use to make a very expensive soup. In class we called them Potato Baskets and filled them with green beans in mustard sauce. Iyer offers a shrimp stir-fry for his nests. Basically they are strips of potatoes deep-fried in two wire strainers until they are crisp and hold the shape of a basket. They can be made ahead and reheated before serving. They are not only pretty, but very, very tasty!

The book is filled with colorful photos and interesting recipes to make any cook’s job just a little easier and tastier.


Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on

Buy online: Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875

Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at:


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Truong Thanh’s perfect water chestnuts

Phyllis Louise Harris
November 2016

I am often asked to name my favorite food. And my answer is always the same – any food that is perfectly ripe and just picked. Last week that applied to the perfectly ripe and very fresh water chestnuts I found at one of my favorite food stores, Truong Thanh (Great Wall).

About this time each year I make a double batch of Chinese Pearl Balls, my daughter’s favorite dish that are best made with fresh water chestnuts. And each year I go to Truong Thanh hoping they have some on hand. Only once was I disappointed because owner Hung Lanh Duong felt the chestnuts in the market were not up to her standards. This year they were perfect!

If you have never tasted a fresh water chestnut you will not understand my excitement in finding perfect chestnuts. They grow in the mud along Southeast Asian riverbanks and when you see them in the store they are still covered with some of the soil. Their outer skins are also dark brown so it is difficult to know whether you are picking up a perfect chestnut with a white, crunchy, tasty interior or one that may have turned brown throughout.

To give me the best chance of getting good water chestnuts I squeeze each one. If they are solid all around I’ll take my chances and keep it. Last week I picked up 14 perfect water chestnuts. Now that may seem like a small thing to you, but to me it was wonderful!

To use the chestnuts I slice off the root end and peel away the dark shell with a knife leaving beautifully crunchy and tasty “nuts.” Not at all like the canned versions that are simply starchy and bland, fresh water chestnuts have a flavor similar to fresh coconut but less sweet. The peeled chestnuts can be kept in a covered container filled with water for several days in the refrigerator. Fresh water chestnuts are among hundreds of items available at Truong Thanh Grocery Store.

Founded in 1988 by Hung’s father Xuong Mau Duong, the store was originally located at 15th Street off Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. Xuong was the state’s first Chinese herbalist who stocked several hundred traditional herbs. It was fun to go into the store on Saturday’s to watch him consult with a customer then go to the drawers and pull out one herb after another putting them on a big square of paper until he had the combination he wanted for his customer’s ailments. In 1993 they moved the store to 2520 Nicollet Avenue South on Eat Street with an adjoining parking lot.

I also go to Truong Thanh for all the Asian basics and cooking equipment as well as beautiful watercress, fresh long beans, live crabs, and in season, persimmons and fresh lychees. That’s another food you need to try fresh and not canned. Lychees have a rough shell around very sweet fruit and a seed. With a sharp knife cut around the circumference of the shell, pull the two shell pieces off and eat the fruit avoiding the seed. Very sweet and very good!

Truong Thanh is open everyday. For information call 612-879-0561.


Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on

Buy online: Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875

Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at:


Monday, October 17, 2016


Phyllis Louise Harris
Fall 2016

Four thousand years ago when Chinese Emperor Shen Nung stopped by the side of the road to rest one afternoon he sat near a Carmellia Sinensis plant to sip a cup of hot water. A leaf from the plant fell into his cup turning the water into a soothing drink that was so relaxing he gathered more leaves to enjoy on his journey. Thus, tea drinking was born or so the legend goes.

Today, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world next to water even though that’s hard to fathom in this land of coffee houses. Fortunately we have tea connoisseurs and suppliers here to provide us with hundreds of varieties of those magical leaves.

Tea drinking in China became so important that teahouses were established so that men could gather and sip and socialize. Soon dim sum was created by the teahouse owners to keep their patrons sipping and spending for longer periods of time. When tea drinking arrived in Japan the brewing process evolved into an ethereal ritual. By the time the English took to drinking tea it became so important that teatime was often the most elaborate meal of the day. Some of my fondest culinary memories are tea at Claridges and the Ritz in London, the Plaza in New York and the Garden Court in San Francisco. All were elegant, soothing, sumptuous and delicious.

For my birthday this year I thought it would be fun to try tea at the St. Paul Hotel, one of the few places in the Twin Cities offering formal teas. After reading the information on the web I called the number provided to get details and make a reservation. While my birthday was sold out I was told I could go on a waiting list in case someone had not made their $40 advance payment by the cut-off date a week earlier. Or on the following Saturday I could sit in the hallway on a wooden chair at a wooden table outside the area where tea is served. The site also said tea was from 2 – 4 pm on the Saturdays listed and I was told that was the actual length of the tea. When I asked why it took so long for a cup of tea the response was “well, it is five courses and the wait staff does not bring out the food all at once.” Silly me. I guess the great tearooms of the world got it wrong when they served beautifully laden tiered trays filled with a variety of goodies . . . all at the same time. When I responded with the opinion that two hours was too long I was told it gave one time to “socialize.” So I would be socializing on a wooden chair in the hallway while the wait staff found time to serve food that is already prepared. Thanks, I’ll socialize somewhere else and call on my memories of teas gone by filled with watercress finger sandwiches, chocolate drizzled crème puffs, flaky warm scones with clotted cream and decadent strawberry jam, and light as air custard tarts.

Since everything is made ahead of time, tea is a great way to entertain friends. You can find a wide variety of small sweet treats at local bakeries including Cossetta’s at 211 Seventh Street West in St. Paul. Or some Chinese treats like steamed buns, moon cake and almond cookies at Keefer Court Food at 328 Cedar Avenue South in Minneapolis. They can even make fortune cookies with you’re your own message inside.  

But the most important part is the tea itself. To start with, DO NOT USE TEA BAGS AND DO NOT USE BOILING WATER. One of the first things I learned from tea guru and award-winning tea blender Bill Waddington was that proper water temperature brings out the best flavor in the tealeaves no matter what they are. And most teas are best with water heated to just below the boiling point from 160° to 212°. He recommends first heating the teapot with boiling water, pour out the water and add the tea leaves then the properly heated water. Steep it for the few minutes it takes to create the desired taste and color, then pour. Fortunately Bill has written a number of tea guides available free at his TeaSource stores in St. Anthony Village, Highland Park and Eden Prairie. Or go to Waddington’s company website for a wide variety of tea information. Also plan to attend his tea tastings and special tea events listed on the website calendar.

Happy teatime!



Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on
Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at:

Monday, September 5, 2016

Uptown barbequing the Korean way

Phyllis Louise Harris
September 2016

The Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis has changed considerably since my childhood. Gone is Calhoun Grade School, the Rainbow Café, Port Arthur Chinese restaurant, Abdullah’s ice cream parlor and Morris and Christie’s grocery and meat market Today’s collection of shops and restaurants serves an ever growing diversified audience that has kept this area of the city in constant motion.

Newest among the offerings is Hoban Korean Barbecue, an offshoot of the Hoban Korean restaurant opened in 1993 in suburban Eagan by Young Tae Lim and his wife Eun Jin Lim. This version is quite different from the original providing an opportunity for Uptown diners to experience Asia’s centuries old barbequing.

Dating back to the Mongolian Emperor Genghis Khan in the 12th century, barbecuing was a necessity for his hoard of troops who rode on horseback through Asia and Europe conquering countries as they moved. Eating on the run necessitated finding game along the way and grilling it over campfires on their metal shields. It must have worked well since they created the largest land empire in world history.

At Hoban the fires are gas flames heating shiny metal grills on tabletops with exhaust vents overhead to whisk the smoke out of the building. Most civilized! In true Korean fashion the items to be barbequed are served with a variety of pickled vegetables and sauces plus slivers of raw garlic along with lettuce leaves to create wraps. There are also a few other dishes on the menu that do not require cooking but where’s the fun?

A word of caution. The raw meat and chicken is served on a platter with tongs to put it on the grill but the same tongs are used to take the cooked meat off the grill. Request a separate set of tongs so you are not combining raw meat with cooked meat and don’t return the cooked meat to the original platter – cuts down on the possibility of contamination. A variety of grill ingredients is offered including pork marinated in a barbeque sauce with a real kick. Wrap your grilled choices in a lettuce leaf with some kimchee and a choice of sauces to savor a traditional Korean treat.

Start with the “potstickers” even though they really aren’t. They are offered fried or steamed and are actually dumplings that are either deep fried or steamed. Deep-frying adds a crisp texture to the dumpling wrapper and makes for a tasty snack while cooking the barbeque. Bulgogi with vermicelli is beef in a sweet broth with a smattering of noodles but is a change from the grilled meats. There are also a variety of rice dishes. 

The restaurant is all bright and shiny with TV screens and bouncing music for those who like noisy distractions. It is an experience to be sure. Open 4 – 10 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 11 am – 9 pm Sunday, Hoban Korean Barbecue is closed on Mondays. They accept reservations for six or more. Call 612-354-7518. Or just drop in at 2939 Hennepin Avenue South, across from the Uptown Theater.



Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on

Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt 

MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at:


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Spicy grilled corn . . an Asian twist on an American tradition

Phyllis Louise Harris
July 2016

One summer afternoon when I was a teenager my dad took our family on a car trip in the country west of the Twin Cities. About half way to our destination we started following a Green Giant truck filled with just harvested sweet corn. The huge mound of big, plump ears of corn in their bright green leafy husks jostled as the truck rolled along and every time it hit a bump in the road a cob or two of corn would fall off onto the road in front of us. My dad, being an old Iowa farmer and former restaurant owner, could not pass up free food and would stop to send one of us kids out to pick up the fallen corn. By the time we got to our destination we had several dozen ears and they were the best tasting corn I ever had! Or, so I remember.

Maybe it is that memory that had made it so difficult to find corn as sweet and juicy as those Green Giant castoffs. So when I buy fresh corn at the farmers’ market and it turns out to be less than perfect, it is disappointing. Fortunately, I found a wonderful vendor at the Northeast Farmers’ Market on University Avenue in Minneapolis and have enjoyed sweet, tender homegrown corn for several summers. Usually I just boil the shucked corn in water with a little milk and sugar and eat it with nothing else. Why spoil perfection?! I make sure there are leftovers that I put in a plastic bag and store in the freezer for mid-winter dining.

Since the corn harvest begins this month here’s a corn recipe from “Asian Flavors…Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875.”  Its flavors are from India but the corn is strictly Minnesota.

For four ears of corn, remove the silk and husks from the corn, rinse and soak in cold water for 20 minutes. Remove corn from water and dry off with paper towels. Place the corn directly on a medium hot charcoal-grill about 4 inches above the heat. Cook uncovered for 15 – 20 minutes turning occasionally until the corn is tender and shows browned kernels among the gold. 

Mix together –
 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
½ teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon ground red pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves. 

Cut a lime into 4 wedges and dip each wedge into the spice mixture then rub it over each cooked ear of corn. Serve hot.

Check the Minnesota Grown Directory for corn growers near you. There is nothing better than freshly picked sweet and tender corn on the cob! Happy summer dining!!!



Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on
Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at:

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Free! And filled with delicious resources…the 2016 Minnesota Grown Directory is yours for the asking!

Phyllis Louise Harris
June 2016

We live in a wonderland filled with so many delicious resources, choosing just a few becomes more and more difficult. The new Minnesota Grown Directory for 2016 does not make the job any easier with more than 1,000 food and product resources in the state. But the directory is free and all you have to do is ask for one sent to your door.

Start with the state’s award-winning wines. Since 1973 when David Bailly established Minnesota’s first vineyard Alexis Bailly Vineyard near Hastings to the more than 600 vineyards and 40 wineries in operation today, there is one near you. Many offer wine tastings, vineyard tours, grape stomping in the fall, picnic areas overlooking scenic valleys and special events. Cannon River Winery in Cannon Falls is a good example. About an hour drive south of the Twin Cities the winery is in an historic building in the middle of town with the vineyard a short distance away. On weekends the wine master may be on hand to explain the wine process and you can taste the results. Light food is also available at reasonable prices and the winery presents a variety of entertainers throughout the year. Go to . Or for wine and beer lovers, head to Waconia and the Schram Vineyards Winery and Brewery with many weekend events. .

On July 30 and 31 plan to attend the Waconia Wine Festival featuring tours and tastings at the Parley Lake Winery, Sovereign Estate and Schram Vineyards and Brewery. The Festival includes outdoor activities plus food and craft vendors. Tickets are $25 and available online at .

Then there are the 176 Farmers’ Markets around the state. All are open this month through October with a bounty of freshly grown and picked produce, locally raised meat and fish, baked goods and so much more. One of my favorites is the Mill City Farmers’ Market in Minneapolis on the banks of the Mississippi River between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum. Every Saturday morning there is musical entertainment, a variety of food vendors, local growers with freshly picked produce and meat and fish farmers along with honey, jam, jelly, pickles, baked goods and so much more. And there is often a cooking demonstration. Gorkha Palace has long had a booth at the market featuring their food from Nepal, India and Tibet including popular momos. On June 4 there will be special features focusing on urban farming and on June 11 the market will highlight immigrant farmers. The second Saturday of each month features the mini farm with live sheep and hens. After the market, visit the Mill City Museum for an unusual look at Minnesota’s important flour history.

Not enough for you? How about pick-your-own farms where you and the family can save money by going into the fields and picking your own strawberries, raspberries, green beans, pumpkins, apples and so much more throughout the season.

But the directory does not stop at every variety of food. It also lists alpaca fiber products, beeswax products, Christmas trees, elk antlers, leather goods, lumber, petting zoos, soap, wreaths and yarn to name a few. Get your free copy at or search through their web directory for sources near you. It can add a whole new dimension to your summer.


Read more about Asian food in Minnesota and try more than 160 recipes in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, in bookstores and on
Watch the EMMY® award winning “Asian Flavors” television show based on the book on tpt MN. Check local TV listings for broadcast times or view the show streaming online at: