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updated: 6/5/2012 6:26 AM

Cook of the Week: Blending cultures leads to winning recipe

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  • Miho Okada-Nishino makes pan seared tilapia with fresh mango and avocado sauce in her kitchen in Palatine.

       Miho Okada-Nishino makes pan seared tilapia with fresh mango and avocado sauce in her kitchen in Palatine.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Miho Okada-Nishino breads tilapia in her Palatine kitchen.

       Miho Okada-Nishino breads tilapia in her Palatine kitchen.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Miho Okada-Nishino chops avocado that she mixes with fresh mango for a sauce to top seared tilapia.

       Miho Okada-Nishino chops avocado that she mixes with fresh mango for a sauce to top seared tilapia.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald Correspondent

When she is cooking, Miho Okada-Nishino loves nothing more than blending the tastes of her two cultures, American and Japanese, with her healthy lifestyle.

So when she decided to enter the Pretzel Crisp recipe contest she saw on Facebook, she thought a healthy take on a crab rangoon sounded delicious. Apparently, the judges and Facebook followers agreed, voting her the winner of the spicy category.

Miho, who had never entered a recipe contest before (and indeed, rarely uses a recipe) won a year's supply of Pretzel Crisps and $1,000. Her recipe, Pretzel Crisp Crab Rangoon with Sweet Chili Sauce, a healthy, kicked-up version of a popular Thai appetizer, also will be featured in Pretzel Crisps cookbook, "Got an App for That?"

"I really wasn't expecting (to win). Actually, I'm really an accountant," Miho said.

She grew up in the United States and Japan and learned to cook from her mother.

"I think I was lucky to be able to live in both countries," Miho said, recalling the bento box her mother used to prepare for her to take to school everyday.

"In Japan, the appearance of food is very important. All the children bring their lunches to school. I remember that my mother was always careful to include colorful foods, like red radishes and green vegetables," she said.

Now living in Palatine, Miho does the majority of her cooking for her husband.

"Before he met me he didn't think about what he was putting in his mouth. He liked a lot of junk food. Now he is so used to eating vegetables that if we go on vacation he'll say 'I miss your cooking,'" Miho said.

When she's not in the kitchen, she's on the road training for marathons.

"I'm not consciously living a healthy lifestyle; it's just a part of my life. I feel so much better this way. If you eat everything in balance, you can stay healthy."

Just as her lifestyle choices aren't always conscious decisions, Miho said she isn't one to follow recipes too closely.

"I usually just look in my fridge and see what ingredients I have and put something together. I like to incorporate Asian flavors into Western-type dishes. I don't believe there is a borderline in cooking."

The presentation of the dish, even at home, is just as important to Miho as it was for her mother while preparing Miho's bento box.

"Even with everyday dishes that I am making at home, I will garnish the plate; it makes the whole dish look better."

Miho also enjoys baking and is always happy to bring something to parties.

"In baking, I try to avoid using artificial coloring or flavoring, and am always looking for ways to decorate or add flavor to my baked goods using natural ingredients like natural vanilla extract, fruit, nuts or chocolate. I've recently started making cake pops -- they are very time-consuming for something so small," she laughs. Miho uses chopped cranberries, nuts and even green tea powder to decorate the cake pops.

Clearly another delicious fusion between East and West.

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