Long before I was a cooker, I was a reader and a writer. I was one of those kids who had to be told not to read at the dinner table, and I was writing “novels” on my red Olivetti Valentine typewriter in fourth grade. The reading and eating experiences are paralell for me insofar as I reject “junk” in both areas of my life (most of the time). This doesn’t mean that I am re-reading all of Shakespeare on a monthly basis, any more than I eat nothing but seared Ahi tuna and flageolets with shaved truffles. I read all of the Twilight books, I read mysteries as an escape when I am stressed, and I used to enjoy the odd Cheeto and french fry before they were banned from consumption in this life. Mostly, though, as I prefer a well-prepared meal with beautiful, whole ingredients, I prefer a well-written book with beautiful, thoughtful ideas. After consuming either of these, I am well nourished.
I first heard about The Last Chinese Chef on “The Splendid Table,” when author Nicole Mones was interviewed by host Lynne Rosetto Kasper. I was intrigued by the discussion about “real” Chinese food, the Chinese food that we rarely see in this country, and about the emphasis on characteristics like texture for the sake of texture.
Today I spent an hour at Barnes and Noble browsing through the cookbooks. The ones that seemed most interesting to me featured cooking from Asia. Nobu and Masahara Morimoto have incredibly beautiful books about Japanese cooking. But it was James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor, with his account of cooking in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, that was most appealing. What I liked was his description of street-vendor food, full of flavor and easy to eat.
Years ago when I was experimenting with Vietnamese food, I planted lemongrass in the garden. I didn't use it very much, so the plant grew undisturbed until it had taken over most of the garden. Looking through the Asian cookbooks reminded me about all that lemongrass in the back yard. When I got home I cut off a stalk and came up with an incredibly easy to make shrimp dish.
Noodles Every Day features quick and easy recipes. For these recipes you will need the basics of an Asian pantry which are explained in detail in an early chapter. All are available at an Asian grocery store or online. However a few recipes have some more exotic ingredients like garland chrysanthemum leaves or silver pin noodles. All the recipes are titled descriptively so Pad Thai becomes Stir-Fried Rice Sticks with Tamarind Sauce, Dried Shrimp, Tofu, Sprouts, and Eggs.
Over the years I've had very good luck with author Corinne Trang's recipes and this book is no exception. Her Somen Noodles with Shrimp Curry and Peas uses less than 10 ingredients and is the perfect kind of one pot meal you'll likely be able to make with peas and shrimp in your freezer and without a trip to the store. The book is divided into sections based on the type of noodle you are using--egg, rice, buckwheat, etc. and it also has a section on buns, dumplings and spring rolls.
I would love to take a moment to review The Sriracha Cookbook that arrived last January. I would also like to take a moment to tell you how much I love the book. But I can’t. I won’t. Why? Because I’m too busy stuffing my face with this recipe.
Let’s say this will be the shortest book review in Mattbites’ history. I’m going to be lazy and point you to what others have said about Randy Clemons’ book appropriately titled The Sriracha Cookbook from Ten Speed Press.
(It’s a fantastic cookbook, and if you’re crazy for the flavors of that certain chili sauce then you really need the book. Really. It’s wonderful.)
But about this pork. Oh damn, this pork. Forget calling this “slow-cooked”: you’ll need an overnight brine plus an additional 12 hours of cooking time. Let’s try “half-a-day-cooked-but-well-worth-the-time-invested”, ok? But Randy lets us know there are no shortcuts to these types of flavors and he’s right–it’s worth it.
First up is Takashi's Noodles. They say if you get just one great recipe from a cookbook, it is worth the price. In that case, let me tell you about Spicy Eggplant Ja-Ja-Men Udon. Chef Yakashi Takashi, owner of Takashi's in Chicago describes this dish as a Japanese version of spaghetti and bolognese sauce. It's basically a spicy eggplant and ground pork sauce over noodles with peppers, spicy notes and a creamy sauce that is enriched with sesame paste.
The recipe has 18 ingredients but I skipped a few altogether and used substitutions for a couple more and can't imagine it made any discernible difference. I didn't bother with the 1/2 cup dashi, 1/3 cup canned bamboo shoots, teaspoon of cornstarch or 3 Tablespoons of sake. I used Chinese chili garlic paste instead of a Japanese variety and Chinese sesame paste instead of tahini. I had to buy exactly 2 ingredients to make the dish, green peppers and ground pork. I could eat this dish every week.!
India: The Cookbook
The amount most of us knows about Indian cuisine is miniscule. And yet, who doesn't love Indian food? Making it at home using the best ingredients is a revelation. This book has the largest collection of Indian recipes that I have ever seen. The introductory sections on the regions of India alone is wonderful.
Bookmarked recipes: Dry cabbage in masala, Lamb in chickpea flour and curry yogurt, Coconut filled pancakes
This encyclopedia of 1000 recipes will be your go-to Indian cooking reference.
Those who love Indian food but want to experience a wider variety of fresh, tasty food than they can find in any given Indian restaurant.
If we didn’t live in New York or LA (or Tokyo or London), we would have to make something from this cookbook at least once every two weeks, even if we did have to ship some of the ingredients in by mail order. But it’s the concept of the fusion of the East and West that he does in a way that no one else does, fascinating to read and to experiment with.