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Asian Cooking

by: Irwin Gelber

New York NY: Nostrand Reinhold 1996, $49.95, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-442-31942-8

Reviewed by: Susan Asanovic
Spring Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(1) page(s): 12 and 18

Restauranteurs, home cooks and cooking instructors should welcome this unusual text from a serious academic publisher. It is particularly useful for culinary students and the restaurateur who wishes to incorporate a sampling of Chinese and other Asian dishes into the now popular 'eclectic' menus.

Most recipes yield ten to twelve servings and can be scaled up or down. Asian Cooking's strength is in the authenticity. For the most part, this collection of dishes is decidedly not run-of-the-wok recipes. For example, Gelber avoids the cliche Green Tea Ice Cream in favor of more traditional Asian fruit desserts. All are feasible with ingredients available in the United States, thanks to the recent influx of Asian immigrants who bring with them exciting culinary possibilities; we read about this in Gelber's excellent Preface.

The tone is instructional; the directions clearly written. What is missing is food lore and recipe headings that offer something about the origins, classic settings, and the uses of each dish. With no discussion of individual Asian kitchens presented, you will not learn much about any one cuisine, its philosophy, or history. However, techniques and seasonings can be inferred from the recipes themselves.

Many recipe selections are from China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Korea; and a handful from Burma, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. There are a lot of dishes from India, which almost seem out of place and would merit a separate cookbook. The more than three hundred recipes are conveniently indexed by country (with one-third plus for Chinese foods), as well as indexed by meal category. Some made me ask questions as to why they were included. For example, I did wonder why the Thai Fresh Corn Fritters have no Asian flavors, and why they are exactly like our American version.

Although Asian cuisines can be very healthy, with the proportions of protein foods to cereals and vegetables, the opposite of the Western module, one cannot call this collection particularly healthful. There is too much deep frying, ghee, coconut milk, and sugar. Will anyone really deep fry carrots and potatoes in butter; however interesting this may be from a cultural, or academic viewpoint. A few other carps: When the instructions read, "see recipe," no page numbers are provided; the photo of Braised Beef in Tomato Yogurt Sauce is quite unappealing; the light print is hard to read, the Vietnamese Crab Cakes did not hang together; and under Purveyors, three Connecticut addresses were listed under Colorado.

This is nonetheless, a very useful reference, and a good teaching and working text. I liked the sections on basics such as easily made Thin and Thick Coconut Milk, and those on Sauces and Dips. In fact, you can learn that Asian sauces and condiments are no more difficult to prepare than your familiar pesto or vinaigrette and Gelber's Teriyaki is much better than bottled versions.

The Velvet Chicken preparation is both easy and useful. Other interesting recipes of note include Chinese Cucumbers in Hot Sauce, and one for Watercress Soup (which follows along with one for Cold Beef with Anise-Flavored Aspic). There is also Vietnamese Eggplant with Minced Pork in Lime Sauce, Barbecued Cambodian Fish Balls, and Filipino Shrimp in Coconut Milk.

There is also a good Glossary that correctly advises that dried orange peel is not orange, but really tangerine, and a useful Bibliography for those who get hooked on original dishes.

Note: This review, written by Susan Asonovic, appeared in a column titled: Bookshelf: A Pair of Reviews.
Watercress Soup
2 and 1/2 quarts chicken stock
10 Chinese dates (jujubes)
12 very thin slices fresh gingerroot, peeled
1 and 3/4 pounds watercress
1 Tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1. Bring chicken stock to the boil, add dates and ginger root. Lower heat and simmer for twenty minutes.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer another five monutes or until the watercress is tender. Serve immediately.
Cold Beef with Anise-flavored Aspic
2 pounds beef shim meat trimmed of all fat, gristle, and other membranes
Several cups of beef stock
8 whole star anise
4 ounces dark soy sauce
2 ounces brown sugar
1 two-inch piece of ginger
1. Tie the meat with butcher's twine to obtain a uniform shape.
2. Place beef in a stew pot and cover the beef with enough stock to that there is two inches of it above the beef, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, partially coer the pan, and simmer for two hours.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer another hour or until the meat is very tender. When done, remove the meat from the cooking liquid and let it cool. Then wrap it in aluminum foil. Place it in the refrigerator, under wights, for five to six hours. (A plate on topo with several cans on it works very well.
4. Reduce the stock to eight ounces then strain the liquid into a shalow tray. When cool, place it in the refrigerator to gel.
5. When serving, use the gelled aspic cut into small cubes as a garnish for the cold beef.
Note: This recipe yields ten to twelve servings, and it can be doubled.

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