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August 2010 Cookbook of the Month: THE COMPLETE ASIAN COOKBOOK, Charmaine Solomon

Caitlin McGrath Aug 1, 2010 02:25 PM

Our cookbook for August is THE COMPLETE ASIAN COOKBOOK, by Charmaine Solomon.

New to Cookbook of the Month? Welcome! This page explains how it all works: http://www.chow.com/cookbook_of_the_month_archive

The following previous COTM discussions may prove helpful in their discussions about ingredients and techniques:

Vietnamese: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/553813

Sichuan/Hunan: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/494660

Indonesia/Singapore/Malaysia: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/616583

Indian: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/656234

**Previous discussion on The Complete Asian Cookbook, including lots of links to recipes from the cookbook: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/722317

There are a variety of editions and publishers of The Complete Asian Cookbook, although it appears that the recipes for the most part are unchanged between them. Please mention the edition you are using along with the page number when you report on recipes.

We'll use this thread for general discussion, and to discuss anything from the Introduction, Equivalents & Substitutes, and Glossary chapters.

Please post reports, reviews, and discussion of recipes in the appropriate threads:

India & Pakistan

Sri Lanka

Indonesia; Malaysia; Singapore



Cambodia & Laos; Vietnam

The Philippines




The Chowhound Team has asked me to remind you that verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

  1. Caitlin McGrath Aug 29, 2010 07:57 PM

    Due to personal circumstances, I wasn't able to cook from CAC at all this month, and the book actually had to go back to the library a while ago, with no possibility of renewal. I have been impressed by some of the reports I've read in the threads, and found much that I saw in the book interesting, though, so I do plan to keep an eye out for a reasonably priced used copy. Even if the strength of all the cuisine chapters isn't equal, it incorporates so many that I've only had in restaurants that I know it will be a useful primer.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Caitlin McGrath
      alkapal Aug 30, 2010 03:29 AM

      caitlin, this site, "library thing" does a lot of the legwork looking for a good price on the book. it is a neat site that i just bookmarked for all sorts of ideas i have for book shopping. http://www.librarything.com/work/1063...

      1. re: alkapal
        JaneEYB Aug 30, 2010 04:24 AM

        I've been a member of LibraryThing for more than 3 years and it is so useful in so many ways. I have cataloged all my books there - I'm not just a cookbook obsessive, I have thousands of other books too. I imported my cookbook ISBN data from there to EYB. You get recommendations on books that fit with the ones you already own. There are tons of reviews. And as alkapal says you can do a price comparison from several different used book sellers.

      2. re: Caitlin McGrath
        The Dairy Queen Aug 31, 2010 05:24 AM

        Similar to Caitlin, my schedule got unexpectedly (and unnecessarily, if you ask me) complicated in August and I was either too busy or too distracted to do anything more than read all of the intros to each of the cuisines and scan the recipes. I have been reading along in the threads, but I would love a general debriefing on which chapters everyone thinks are relatively strong and which are relatively weak.

        Which chapters are the strongest and which are the weakest?

        PS: my schedule in Sept is going to be pretty crazy, too, at least the first 2-3 weeks of the month. I really hope to join in later in the month, though. I feel like I'm missing out on some great cooking!


        1. re: Caitlin McGrath
          smtucker Aug 31, 2010 06:13 AM

          My August turned into a total whirlwind which has prevented me from investigating this book, and then as with Caitlin, it was time to return the book to the library. I had quite a few pages marked, but ended up just eating raw vegetables for most of the month.

          September promises to be equally busy, but I am hoping to get in a few days of COTM cooking.

          1. re: Caitlin McGrath
            Gio Aug 31, 2010 08:51 AM

            I'm done with this book for the time being. We managed to cook a fair amount of recipes, most of them were quite nice and several will be revisited in the future. We enjoyed the experience but I must say having so many recipes from which to choose made the process somewhat time consuming. Plus.. did I tell you my arms are killing me? LOL It's a heavy book!

            ETA: Of course Gourmet Today has the same challenge...

          2. luckyfatima Aug 7, 2010 05:37 PM

            If anyone is familiar with the languages for the names of the dishes of the cuisines, and you see a mistake in a dish name, can you inform us? I like to be accurate with this stuff and I don't want to memorize the wrong name. I realize their are many ways to transliterate words, so I am not talking about different transliteration in English, but just wrong vocab or grammar mistakes or wrong translations. There are some mistakes in the India/Pakistan (like sem ki bhaji is as sem ka bhaji, and a few others, battakh=badhak probably the person who helped Solomon with that section was an Indian whose mother-tongue was not Hindi) Also in Vietnamese Solomon calls cellophane noodles "bun tau" which I think means Chinese bun. I believe these are commonly called "mien." Sorry, I know that is really nerdy, but I like to learn stuff accurately.


            3 Replies
            1. re: luckyfatima
              Bada Bing Aug 10, 2010 04:25 AM

              Second that: I will also appreciate hearing about any misnamed dishes or typos.

              1. re: luckyfatima
                jen kalb Aug 10, 2010 09:25 AM

                "bun" is the vietnamese word for rice vermicelli.
                bun tau is cellophane noodles made from mung bean starch, the usual kind. I dont know the derivation but it seems to be the correct term. There is another type called mien

                The info on this page might interest you too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_...
                from one nerd to another

                1. re: jen kalb
                  luckyfatima Aug 10, 2010 01:19 PM

                  Ah very interesting. I never knew their was a bun tau, I always knew that as mien. Thanks for the correction and extra info.

              2. k
                kestypes Aug 7, 2010 02:38 AM

                We are so thankful to be able to count Charmaine Solomon as Australian now. When the first edition of this book came out in 1975 (and I was there to buy it) it was revolutionary. We're talking about a time when the variety in eating out in Australia was Chinese, a little bit of Indian, some not very good Italian and Greek. I suspect just about everyone in the country has a copy of this book. People fought over it in relationship splits. Never mind the iron, who gets Charmaine! Her chili sauce is legendary, especially with crab. If you only own one Asian cookbook, make this the one. Interestingly, there are more well known Australian cooks and chefs, but if it wasn't for Charmaine, none of them would exist.

                11 Replies
                1. re: kestypes
                  Gio Aug 7, 2010 05:04 AM

                  Well That's interesting to know. Hello and Welcome to Chowhound. Do you have a favorite recipe or two, other than the chili sauce with crab? I'm off to search for that chili sauce recipe now...

                  1. re: kestypes
                    JoanN Aug 7, 2010 09:01 AM

                    Could you be more specific, please, about which chili sauce is legendary? Are you talking about the Fried Chili Crabs? or about a stand-alone sauce to which crab can be added?

                    1. re: JoanN
                      Gio Aug 7, 2010 09:25 AM

                      Joan FWIW: I went to EYB and found the chili sauce recipe. Here are the ingredients:

                      Chilli sauce
                      Ingredients: garlic - fresh; sugar - granulated; vinegar - white; chiles - red; sultanas; ginger - fresh
                      Classifications: Singaporean

                      1. re: Gio
                        JoanN Aug 7, 2010 10:37 AM

                        You know, I saw that recipe.But there was something about it that made me think that couldn't be it. I guess it was the thought of sultanas with crab. Kinda makes my back teeth hurt. But now that I look again, more carefully, the recipe for Fried Chilli Crabs does indeed have chilli sauce in its ingredient list and I guess that is indeed the chilli sauce being called for.

                        The recipe for chilli sauce as written makes 3+ cups. Sounds like half a recipe could last a lifetime. But, if it's legendary . . . .

                        So what if I don't like sultanas.

                        1. re: JoanN
                          Gio Aug 7, 2010 10:48 AM

                          Well... there's sugar. What will sultanas add? Would you substitute or omit them?

                          1. re: Gio
                            JoanN Aug 7, 2010 11:19 AM

                            When someone tells me a recipe is legendary, I make it as written. Except for halving it. At least the first time. Have guests arriving next week and staying for two who won't eat anything spicy. They practically break out in a sweat just looking at my spice rack. This may have to wait a while.

                          2. re: JoanN
                            kestypes Aug 7, 2010 04:18 PM

                            Sorry, should have been mor specific. It's the chili sauce recipe, which you can then use in the Fried Chilli Crabs. Joan, the sultanas are vital. The one amendment we make in our house is more ginger (1 tablespoon or more). I have it annotated on my copy from the housemate who would make it, and we'd often use raw sugar. Both those slight variations will stop your back teeth from hurting.

                            You can then use it for any of her recipes that call for chilli sauce, Charmaine also makes some other suggestions for variations to make it hotter/less so, sweeter/less so. Enjoy.

                            1. re: kestypes
                              JoanN Aug 7, 2010 04:29 PM

                              Okay. Gonna try it. No opportunity in the next few weeks, but on the list. More ginger is always good in my book. Making a note of it. And I do have some raw sugar.

                              I didn't see variations on sweet and hot within the recipe itself. Does she have that info somewhere else? Also, I saw another recipe in the Singapore chapter that calls for sweet chilli sauce. Do you have any idea whether or not that would be the same chilli sauce in a sweeter variation?

                      2. re: kestypes
                        mebby Aug 7, 2010 09:20 AM

                        What a great endorsement! I hope you'll be joining us in cooking this month and I echo Gio in wanting to hear some of your other favorite gems in this book.

                        1. re: kestypes
                          The Dairy Queen Aug 8, 2010 08:11 AM

                          I'm so charmed by your story, kestypes. It does give a little perspective on the book in its heyday. You say Solomon is much-beloved. Have people's opinions of her changes since she released her line of pastes and marinades? http://www.charmainesolomon.com/index...


                          1. re: The Dairy Queen
                            buttertart Aug 8, 2010 09:08 AM

                            It's true it is a pioneering book. At the time there were very few books on the subject (volumes of the Time-Life Foods of the World series and some others). It was a revelation to read about the lesser-known cuisines.

                        2. boogiebaby Aug 1, 2010 07:48 PM

                          This cookbook has been around for years. My uncle (based in Australia) got copies for my mom and aunt when it came out. My mom has a few tried and true recipes in it. When I got married in 1997, my aunt gave me her copy. I still use it. It's a great resource and all the recipes we've tried have been good.

                          1. Gio Aug 1, 2010 05:52 PM

                            Wow Caitlin... What a wondeful breakdown of the chapters. I wondered how you would do it thinking it would be much broader with the divisions being major ingredients as in the past. Many thanks for making this easy for us to refer to in the future.

                            45 Replies
                            1. re: Gio
                              Caitlin McGrath Aug 1, 2010 06:52 PM

                              Thanks, Gio. I thought, there's such a diversity of cuisines covered in the book that it only makes sense to break it down as she does (with a few chapters combined where cuisines/ingredients are similar, so as not to have an overwhelming number of threads).

                              I think I will have to spend some time checking out her Sri Lanka chapter. In someone else's volume, it would no doubt have been shorter, and easy to combine with another chapter. Solomon clearly spends as much space and detail on it as she does because it's the cuisine she personally knows best, having grown up and spent much of her adult life there.

                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                                jen kalb Aug 2, 2010 07:44 AM

                                Yes, Sri Lanka and Burma appear to be closest to home for her. It seems likely they would have the best content.

                                1. re: jen kalb
                                  The Dairy Queen Aug 2, 2010 01:02 PM

                                  I've read through the introductions to each of the chapters, and I thought the Burma and Sri Lanka ones were just lovely.


                                  1. re: jen kalb
                                    boogiebaby Aug 2, 2010 01:04 PM

                                    Her recipes are very authentic too. My mom is from Singapore (born in Malaysia) and my dad grew up in Burma. We are of Indian descent though. I can vouch that all of the recipes in those sections are very good and very authentic.

                                    1. re: boogiebaby
                                      The Dairy Queen Aug 2, 2010 01:04 PM

                                      boogiebaby, will you be joining us in cooking this month? I hope so!


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                        buttertart Aug 2, 2010 01:06 PM

                                        TDQ - Haven't checked, but seems to me the Malaccan Devil Curry and the Sri Lankan Black Curry recipes are in the book? Black pepper without smoke coming out your ears.

                                        1. re: buttertart
                                          The Dairy Queen Aug 2, 2010 01:09 PM

                                          They didn't pop out at me when I was looking for them, but I would love to try them if they are in there. Is there someone who is more familiar with these dishes who has the book who might be able to tell if these recipes are in the book, under a different name, perhaps? (I will have to check when I get home. When this came up before, I checked EYB, but I meant to check "manually" once I got the books.)


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                            buttertart Aug 2, 2010 01:14 PM

                                            I'll check tonight if no one pops up with the info before. On a family visit for the next few days so won't be cooking from this until next week.

                                            1. re: buttertart
                                              JaneEYB Aug 2, 2010 01:43 PM

                                              The Sri Lankan Black Curry is more a type of curry, so called because the coriander, cumin and fennel are roasted until a rich coffee brown (according to CS). So the curries I could see that would fit that description are Chicken gizzard curry, Skewered beef curry, and Beef pepper curry.

                                              Couldn't find anything called Devil Curry in the Malaysian chapter.

                                              1. re: JaneEYB
                                                The Dairy Queen Aug 2, 2010 01:46 PM

                                                Oh, very interesting! Hmmm...that beef pepper curry sounds like it might be it. I will have to peek at the recipe when I get home. Thanks Jane!


                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                  buttertart Sep 15, 2010 12:29 PM

                                                  This popped up on my FB page...thought might be of interest still...sounds totally YUM.

                                                  1. re: buttertart
                                                    The Dairy Queen Sep 15, 2010 12:38 PM



                                                    1. re: buttertart
                                                      alkapal Sep 15, 2010 12:40 PM

                                                      in sri lanka, a similar (vinegar-component) deviled pork is "pork badun" http://www.bigoven.com/recipe/38731/s...

                                                      in my solomon book, it is in the recipes, iirc. delicious! I recall smaller and darker chunks of pork) than in the eating asia pic of chick).

                                                      1. re: alkapal
                                                        buttertart Sep 15, 2010 12:44 PM

                                                        I first had this as Malaccan devil curry (in HK, a hundred thousand years ago) and it was made with chicken there.

                                                        1. re: buttertart
                                                          alkapal Sep 15, 2010 12:48 PM

                                                          the spice combo sounds delicious!

                                                      2. re: buttertart
                                                        boogiebaby Sep 15, 2010 01:27 PM

                                                        Mmm... I've had this in Malaysia before and it was awesome! But mouth numbingly spicy too. I eat spicy, but it was spicy even for me. I make a similar style chicken at home, with less chillis in it since my kids eat spicy but not as hot as we do.

                                                        I saw some comments questioned the number of shallots and chillis. The onions in Malaysia are "bombay onions", which are the size of small yellow onions but colored and flavored like shallots. So 15-20 Bombay onions would probably be like 30 shallots. and the 30 chillis -- the chillis in Malaysia are dark in color and not super hot, so you can use a number of them without overdoing the heat. But that's also why you add sugar -- so you get the chilli flavor but with toned down heat.

                                                    2. re: JaneEYB
                                                      buttertart Aug 2, 2010 01:46 PM

                                                      Beef pepper curry is the one I was thinking of. The devil curry is similar.

                                                      1. re: buttertart
                                                        The Dairy Queen Aug 2, 2010 01:48 PM

                                                        Awesome. I shall try it and report back this month.


                                                        1. re: buttertart
                                                          The Dairy Queen Aug 2, 2010 04:36 PM

                                                          2-4 tsp ground pepper. Whew!


                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                            buttertart Aug 3, 2010 05:46 AM

                                                            Not bad with the other spices. Keep it to the 2 tsp first time? (Tangentially as usual but have you made the oven-cooked beef with yogurt and black pepper in Jaffrey's Indian Cooking? V good and you can make it as peppery as you like>)

                                                            1. re: buttertart
                                                              The Dairy Queen Aug 3, 2010 05:56 AM

                                                              Ooh, that sound delicious, too. I will have to look that up. 2 tsp sounds fine. Even 4 tsp doesn't sound that dramatic compared to the several TBSP in that "Plenty" recipe.


                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                buttertart Aug 3, 2010 06:19 AM

                                                                It has to be a typo. I mean really!

                                                                1. re: buttertart
                                                                  The Dairy Queen Aug 3, 2010 06:21 AM

                                                                  I know! I also wonder, aren't British TBSPs slightly different than American TBSPs? I have to say, I just used my regular TBSPs. Maybe that's where I went wrong?


                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                    buttertart Aug 3, 2010 06:34 AM

                                                                    As I was writing that I was thinking the same thing. English books normally cite teaspoons and dessertspoons, don't they? Maybe greedygirl can pop in and let us know volume of English "tablespoons". I have a set from Canada (that may or may not be relevant) that shows a tb as 15 ml and that tb seems a bit bigger than my US ones.

                                                                    1. re: buttertart
                                                                      JaneEYB Aug 3, 2010 07:22 AM

                                                                      As a Brit living in the US I will jump in here on the tablespoon debate. British and American tablespoons are identical at 15 ml or 3 teaspoons. Most British recipes use teaspoon and tablespoon measures, the same as US recipes, even though they are generally metric. Dessertspoons are 2 teaspoons, 10 ml, and are generally only used in older recipes.

                                                                      1. re: JaneEYB
                                                                        MMRuth Aug 3, 2010 07:26 AM

                                                                        I recently bought some British measuring spoons in London and my sense was that the British ones were slightly bigger ... but I haven't tested it.

                                                                        1. re: MMRuth
                                                                          The Dairy Queen Aug 3, 2010 07:45 AM

                                                                          MMR, it will be interesting to see what you come up with. Sometimes just the shape of the spoon is very deceiving. I just pulled a very old set of measuring spoons out of the back of the drawer, these are my husband's and I'm guessing he inherited them from his Grandma, and they looked huge compared to normal measuring spoons. I didn't test them or anything because I didn't have any reason to believe they would be "wrong" but I was surprised at how different they appeared in volume.


                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                            buttertart Aug 3, 2010 08:03 AM

                                                                            I have a plastic set (Tupperware) from the '70s as well as the Canadian jobbies - if you fill the TW tb with water and put it in the other one it doesn't nearly fill it. I wonder if there is a truly standardized set out there and if it truly matters anyway since the quantities we are talking about and slight variance in same are not usually crucial to a recipe's success. Unless a TB is written where a TSP is meant. (Wasn't the Ottolenghi guy responding during the thread? Possible to ctc and ask the source somehow/?)

                                                                          2. re: MMRuth
                                                                            MMRuth Aug 7, 2010 05:44 AM

                                                                            OK, I tested them, and indeed they are the same. Apologies to JaneEYB.

                                                                            1. re: MMRuth
                                                                              The Dairy Queen Aug 7, 2010 05:47 AM

                                                                              That is so trippy! I'm telling you, it's an optical illusion thing, buttertart's set from the 70's notwithstanding.


                                                                          3. re: JaneEYB
                                                                            The Dairy Queen Aug 3, 2010 07:41 AM

                                                                            Interesting! Well, I wish we'd all just go to metric and avoid this confusion altogether. But, I think that would be a difficult adjustment for everyone trying to convert family recipes and so on. But, it's very confusing!

                                                                            Well, I'm back to thinking that black pepper tofu recipe in Plenty is just a mistake. TBSP instead of tsp... Maybe it's just me and I read it wrong, but I swear I re-read it and re-read it...


                                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                              JaneEYB Aug 3, 2010 08:03 AM

                                                                              I Googled the recipe (my copy of the book is still out with the indexer) and found a few bloggers who had posted about it:

                                                                              They all thought it was very peppery - some liked it, some thought it was too hot. But none of them thought the directions were wrong with 5 tb of crushed black pepper. Did you use ground or crushed? There would be a lot more pepper in ground.

                                                                              1. re: JaneEYB
                                                                                The Dairy Queen Aug 3, 2010 08:34 AM

                                                                                I crushed it in my mortar and pestle. I will say that I agree with the blogger in your first link, other than the excess of black pepper, the dish was addictingly delicious. I couldn't stop eating it--I just scraped off the pepper and ate it. Normally, I love black pepper, but I just couldn't eat this. Funnily enough, my husband, who doesn't normally like much black pepper (or tofu), loved this dish.

                                                                                I think I'll just have to try it again with less pepper. If I recall, I made a number of small substitutions. I have to wonder if it was the accumulated effect of the substitutions, or just a botched measurement when I cut the recipe in half, that made it too spicy? http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7065...

                                                                                I'm definitely going to try it again!


                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                                  oakjoan Aug 3, 2010 05:24 PM

                                                                                  I just bought some tofu yesterday so I could try this recipe. The photo is so gorgeous I almost wolfed down the page.

                                                                                  I'm going French tonight. Making chicken with tarragon and vinegar. Tomorrow night BLACK PEPPER TOFU!

                                                                                  1. re: oakjoan
                                                                                    The Dairy Queen Aug 3, 2010 05:30 PM

                                                                                    GO! OAKJOAN! I can't wait to read about it. I hope you love it!

                                                                                    (And, yes, isn't that photo amazing?!)


                                                                                    1. re: oakjoan
                                                                                      roxlet Aug 3, 2010 06:07 PM

                                                                                      Is this anything like the recipe in Plenty?

                                                                                      1. re: roxlet
                                                                                        buttertart Aug 4, 2010 05:44 AM

                                                                                        We're being naughty and discussing that very recipe (because the subject of the Sri Lankan black pepper curry in CAC came up). And I am 100% on the same page as oakjoan re the pic!

                                                        2. re: buttertart
                                                          alkapal Aug 12, 2010 07:00 AM

                                                          butter tartlet, aka jaggery gal, check my recipes for a sri lankan black meat curry recipe from my ceylon cookery book given to me by sri lankan MIL. http://www.chow.com/recipes/14154-sri...

                                                          1. re: alkapal
                                                            buttertart Aug 12, 2010 07:35 AM

                                                            Looks great! Btw had special sondesh made with new jaggery at my MIL's this weekend, courtesy of my Bengali SIL...yum.

                                                            1. re: buttertart
                                                              alkapal Aug 12, 2010 03:43 PM


                                                              150 gm: Paneer
                                                              ½ cup: Khoya, grated
                                                              6 tbsp: Sugar/gur
                                                              6-8: Almonds, shredded thin lengthwise
                                                              4-6: Chhoti elaichi, crushed a little
                                                              6-7 strands: Kesar

                                                              looks similar to indian rasmalai. kesar is saffron, and chhoti is green cardamom, right? khoya is like ricotta? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoa

                                                              1. re: alkapal
                                                                jen kalb Aug 13, 2010 07:43 AM

                                                                khoya is cooked down milk - paneer is the fresh white cheese.

                                                                1. re: jen kalb
                                                                  alkapal Aug 13, 2010 11:26 AM

                                                                  which means what in terms of the dish? paneer is cooked down. too.

                                                                  1. re: alkapal
                                                                    buttertart Aug 13, 2010 11:37 AM

                                                                    The finished sweet is like a pale brown, somewhat softer and somewhat grainier barfi. It was bought, not made by my SIL.

                                                                    1. re: alkapal
                                                                      luckyfatima Aug 13, 2010 12:12 PM

                                                                      Paneer is made by adding a souring agent to milk and then pouring off the excess liquid, then weighting down to get out any extra liquid. It is a quick and easy process. Khoya is slow boiling milk for hours to evaporate all of the liquids and get just the solids, it becomes like a dough. The two are both milk fat and solids with the liquids removed but by two completely different processes and yielding very different results in terms of flavor.

                                                                      I believe that traditionally many of these milk based Bengali sweets are made with a product more closely related to paneer called "chhena." I think it is a wetter, kneaded paneer, but to be honest I don't know much about it.

                                                                      I like your sandesh recipe alkapal because at least it doesn't have my Indian-milk sweet put off ingredient: dried milk powder. That's what a lot of people use these days in all of these recipes that would traditionally use chhena and khoya.

                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                            boogiebaby Aug 4, 2010 10:59 PM

                                                            I will try my best -- running a pretty busy schedule this month. I have made several of the recipes in this book though, so I will try to share some of those when I have more time. :)

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