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Sunday, Aug. 15, 1999

JAPAN LITE

Food with an attitude coming to a table near you


Irritated? Feel like having an argument? Argue with your food. And don't presume that just because you'll get the last bite, that you're going to win the argument every time. Linda Matthie-Jacobs, author of two cookbooks about "food with an attitude," has followed up her previous "Fire 'n' Ice" cookbook with a new cookbook called "Light the Fire: Fiery Food with a Light New Attitude" (MJM Grande Publishing, www.cooking withfire.com ). With items such as Margarita Jelly, Grilled Tequila Salmon Steaks, and Great Bowls of Fire, this is not food to be taken lightly. With this cookbook, you can take your everyday, ho-hum steak and give it an attitude. It's a whole new world of chili peppers, jalapenos and tabasco _ really hot! Believe me, this food does talk back.

Attention Japanese people who don't like hot, spicy food but eat wasabi every day: Wasabi is really hot! I vividly recall my first encounter with the wicked rhizome. It looked like an innocent bystander sitting on top of a piece of carrot by the edge of the plate. This little pile of green stuff was extremely non-threatening compared to the raw fish sitting next to it. My Japanese hosts told me wasabi was "horseradish," in accordance with the English translation, so I confidently mixed a large glob of it in the sashimi sauce. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough beer left in my glass to douse the raging wasabi mouth fire. I never did get to experience what real sushi tasted like that night.

Nowadays, many people in the United States are familiar with wasabi. The Americans have come up with more ways to eat wasabi than the Japanese: wasabi ice cream, wasabi wine, wasabi cheese, wasabi salad dressing and wasabi crackers. The one universal truth about food is that once a food has left its native turf, there's no telling what the host country will do with it.

Thus, we have cookbooks such as "Light the Fire," which adds Latin flavors to, well, almost everything. The book also includes drink recipes with names such as Rattlesnake Bite, Fire Water and Germ Warfare. This is the one part of the book where I recommend the author make a change. With the drink recipes at the beginning of the book, it's quite possible you'll never make it to the food recipes. Even if you do make it to the Grilled Tequila Salmon Steak recipe, after you've waited four hours for the salmon to marinade in tequila, you'll be just as drunk as the salmon. Indeed, you may not be able to get the salmon out of the tequila bottle. (There is no recipe for cooking a whole bottle of tequila).

The book also includes a CD of Spanish guitar music by Oscar Lopes (not surprisingly the CD is named, "Heat") to play while you're cooking. This rather soothing music, I suspect, is intended to calm down the food, not the chef.

At a party, I tried out the Rattlesnake Bite recipe: three-quarters cup of vodka, 4 cups of pineapple juice, one-half cup of tomato juice, 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon of hot pepper sauce, the juice of one lime and lots of ice cubes. I tripled the recipe and served it out of a bucket. The hot pepper sauce caused people to, after taking a sip, say intelligent things such as, "Whew!" or sometimes, "Wheeeeewie!" Now that's a drink with attitude. A bit of warning however: Often the true personality of a recipe doesn't surface until hours later. These Rattlesnake Bites caused one person to, um, disrobe. The Rattlesnake definitely got the last bite.

It makes you wonder what Linda Mathie-Jacobs is going to come up with next. Perhaps something like, "Wasabi: Cooking with the Wicked Rhizome."

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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