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Sweet, spicy, rich and complex, hoisin is a thick, reddish brown sauce essential to the Chinese pantry. Perhaps because of its importance as a table condiment, some people think of it as Asian ketchup. But hoisin contains no tomato. Instead, it's one more example of what Asians have learned to do with their ever-present soybean -- in this case, soybeans mashed to a paste, enhanced with sweet potato and flavored with vinegar, garlic, chili peppers and other spices.

Hoisin is sometimes called Peking sauce, likely because it's the classic accompaniment to Peking duck. Its texture and flavor profile bear a resemblance to American barbecue sauces, and, in fact, it's a key component in the preparation of Chinese-style barbecued pork. It's an essential flavor element in popular Chinese stir fries ranging from Cashew Chicken to Kung Pao Shrimp. It's used as a finishing sauce for Mou Shu Pork wrapped in Mandarin Pancakes. And it's often served as one of the variety of add-ins for the Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho.

Hoisin sauce is generally available in the Asian sections of mainstream groceries. Aside from using it in recipes, try sweetening hoisin with a little honey and spiking it with orange zest as a glaze for broiled salmon. Stir a bit of hoisin into vinaigrettes made with vegetable oil, rice vinegar and a dash of toasted sesame oil. Or make impromptu Asian wraps by stuffing flour tortillas with shredded rotisserie chicken, chopped green onions and shredded carrots and cabbage. Sauce with hoisin and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

Look for peanut sauce and hoisin in the Asian section of your supermarket.

>Asian Beef Wraps

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (95 percent lean)

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

1/2 cup jarred peanut sauce

1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1/4 cup torn fresh mint

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

12 large Boston lettuce leaves (about 2 heads) or iceberg or romaine lettuce

Fresh mint

Brown ground beef in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until no longer pink, breaking up into small crumbles. Pour off drippings. Stir in hoisin sauce and peanut sauce; cook until thoroughly heated.

Just before serving, add cucumber, carrot and torn mint; toss gently. Season with salt and pepper. Serve beef mixture in lettuce leaves. Garnish with mint and serve with your favorite peanut sauce. Serves 4.

Recipe adapted from the Healthy Beef Cookbook by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Dietetic Association (John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2006).

Per serving: 337 calories, 11g fat, 40g prot., 18g carbs., 3g fiber, 641mg sodium.

This is the last recipe The News will be running from Relish magazine.