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Asian Cookbooks for Beginners

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Which cookbook would you suggest for an experienced home cook that wants to explore cooking Asian foods at home? I have several cookbooks already, but will add anything helpful.

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For general Asian, Charmaine Solomon's books (including the Encyclopedia of Asian Food) are good. But I'd encourage you to pick one particular cuisine to start with--there's not much similarity between Indian and Japanese food, for example--and choose a book with a narrower focus.

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Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet is my favorite asian cookbook. Covers the whole gamut of Southeast Asia.

not exactly, does not cover malaysia, singapore, phillipines and indonesia. really more representative of indochina. still very enjoyable though.


Edited by SG- (log)

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Before you buy anything, check books out of the library!

Some other's include "Thai Food" by David Thompson, "Land of Plenty" by Fuchsia Dunlop (sichuan cooking), anything by Mahdur Jaffrey (Indian Cooking), Barbara Tropp's "Modern Art of Chinese Cooking."

Asia is big, and I would target books on more specific cuisines.

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And what about "The Essentials of Asian Cuisine" by Corinne Trang? Here is a recent quote from CH on a similar subject: "...Marvelous! It takes a recipe, say, like spring rolls and shows the many variations from country to country, very interesting. It is a little more focused than Hot Sour Salty Sweet..."

Here is a review of her book: THE ASIAN Julia Child.


Edited by helenas (log)

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Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet is my favorite asian cookbook. Covers the whole gamut of Southeast Asia.

This book is beautiful with some good content however it is a little depressing to read.

Why is it depressing?

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And what about "The Essentials of Asian Cuisine" by Corinne Trang? Here is a recent quote from CH on a similar subject: "...Marvelous! It takes a recipe, say, like spring rolls and shows the many variations from country to country, very interesting. It is a little more focused than Hot Sour Salty Sweet..."

Here is a review of her book: THE ASIAN Julia Child.

This is a great book! Very informative, a lot of talk and a lot of recipes!

I also love Madhur Jaffrey's stuff, I have 7 of her books and love them all.

HSSS is another great book as well as their 2 others.

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Fragrant Harbor Taste by Ken Hom is one of my favorites. I've learned a lot from Classic Foods of China by Yan-Kit So. (Love that name.) The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Ying-Fei Lo is outstanding as well. It would be worth buying something like The Chinese Pantry by Ken Hom or something because it's got color pictures of all the greens and dried stuff and condiments.

For Japanese, try Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji. Very informative and a preface by M.F.K. Fisher.

Thai: True Thai by Victor Sodsook. Full of great stuff and Victor makes everything sound so good.

Vietnamese: Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham. You'll want to make every single recipe in this book. Truly seductive.

That should hold you for a while.

essvee (who moved to San Francisco so he could get his hands on the Chinese ingredients he'd been reading about, and who now lives three blocks from Oakland Chinatown.)

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If you can, pick up all the cookbooks suggested above. From my view, there's not a single bad or weak recommendation.

If you can only pick up one, I'd strongly recommend Trang's "Essentials."

In fact, you may want to start with Trang's book & find out which regional cuisines interest you, then focus on specific regions. (To my knowlege, there's nothing close to "Essentials" in the English language. Final note: Don't be put off concerning some of the comments about "Hot Sour Salty Sweet." It's a masterpiece as are all of their cookbooks.)

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Thanks for all the suggestions. Thai and Vietnamese seem relatively healthy cuisines and I like the tastes I've sampled in restaurants, so I'll probably start with them and perhaps some Chinese. I already have a few of the books mentioned and looked at the Trang book at B&N just today.

As I already have Thai Food and HSSS..., a bunch of Mai Pham'r recipes, and the Tropp books, perhaps some of you might suggest some good already tested ones that are not too complex for me to begin with. Instant success is such an incentive.

Several large Asian Markets in the area will make finding ingredients relatively easy, though when I've ventured in, I did find a language barrier.

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As I already have Thai Food and HSSS..., a bunch of Mai Pham'r recipes, and the Tropp books, perhaps some of you might suggest some good already tested ones that are not too complex for me to begin with. Instant success is such an incentive. 

Several large Asian Markets in the area will make finding ingredients relatively easy, though when I've ventured in, I did find a language barrier.

Might I suggest our upcoming eGullet Culinary Institute Ethnic Cuisine classes? For Asian cuisines we will be covering Thai, Japanese, Indian, and perhaps (if we could find an instructor), Chinese as well.

As a teaser I will give you a very easy Thai recipe to start with, that will definitely be a success. It is basically chicken stir-fried in chilli paste with garlic, onion, bell peppers and Thai basil. It is spicy, fragrant and unbelieveably easy to make. It is also unabashedly Thai, not a Thai-ed up dish that you'd never find in authentic Thai cuisine. And by unabashedly Thai I also meant you'd better make sure your date or other half eat it with you or he/she will be sorry. :-) Serve it with Jasmine rice and you have a meal in less than 15 minutes.

Gai pad Nam-prik Pao (Chicken sitr-fried in Chilli Paste)

Ingredients

1-2 tbsp oil (any neutral tasting oil suitable for high temperature cooking will do)

two (small) cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 chicken breasts, sliced into bite size

1 heaping tablespoon of Chili Paste*

Half an onion, sliced

about half cup each of red bell pepper and green bell pepper, sliced

Fish Sauce to taste (start with 2tbsp, add more if needed)

a handful of Thai Basil, regular basil will do as well

bird-eye Chilli, optional

*I make my own, but you can easily buy it at any Asian Market. The most readily available brand is in a 16oz jar, with yellow top and yellow, red and white lable. The label says Chilli Paste with Soya Bean Oil. The brand is Pantainorasingh. I have used this brand in the past, and find it acceptable for cooking though not for eating plain.

Now you cook...

Into a hot wok or sauteed pan, add the oil, then the chopped garlic

wait until the garlic is just beginning to fragrant, be carful not to let it brown at this time as it will continue to cook after the addition of other ingredients.

Add the chicken, stir it around for a few minutes until the chicken is about half way done, then add the fish sauce and chilli paste, give it a good stir.

Next add the onion and bell peppers.

If you like it very spicy, smashed up a couple of bird-eye chilli and throw them in.

Cook, stiring frequently, until the chicken is done.

Check the seasonings, add more fish sauce if needed.

Throw in the handful of Thai Basil, turn the heat off, stir a few times to incorporate the basil into the dish.

Serve immediately with freshly cooked jasmine rice, from Thailand of course.

Enjoy,

Pim


Edited by pim (log)

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Wow, Pim, I like your introduction! The only thing I need special shopping for is the Chilli paste! No new techniques, no coconuts to crack, no apple eggplants to try to find. It's as simple as heading to the Italian Market for some extra good Parmesan. In fact, it is heading to the Italian Market where some Asian supermarkets are in the neighborhood. I'll probably try it this weekend.

It looks like a great dish. It also looks adaptable. For example, could it be made with shrimp? Would that be, using the "A" word, "authentic"? (One of my houseguests doesn't eat meat, fowl, etc., but does eat seafood.)

I've been studying Thompson and I think the tough part will be finding ingredients and cracking coconuts. Oh, and pounding pastes in the mortar.

Is there a book or web site that pictures the vegetables commonly used in Thai or other Asian cuisines? I've been shopping at an Asian market for Jasmine rice, shallots, and other swinger ingredients. But many of the ingredients are mystery ingredients. Sometimes I do buy something and incorporate it into my everyday cooking, like the sweet chilli sauce that does nice things to all sorts of dishes.

But fooling around with the unknown can be dangerous, too. Years ago, I came upon some fresh tamarind, took a nibble, bit on a seed, wound up with a root canal and cap. :sad:

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Yes, shrimp will work just fine. I've done it with Tofu as well, since one of my dearest friends is a vegetarian.

For the Tofu version, I use Chinese fried tofu that you can buy from most Asian markets. They are normally in square or triangle pieces in plastic bags. Just buy the freshest looking ones. If you are so inspired, you can quick fry them again before cooking, it's not neccesary. I usually slice them thin and use in place of chicken. You need to add the tofu, onions, and bell peppers at the same time, as the tofu do not need very long to cook, and you want to end up with slightly crunchy onions and bell peppers, not raw.

I've used shrimp as well. For the shrimp version I would use lemon basil if you could find them. The subtle tang of the Lemon Basil (Bai Mang-Luck in Thai) goes very well with seafood.

As for pictures of ingredients, we plan to add pictures of commonly used ingredients in the class. I will look through my library and let you know if I found anything useful.

I have the Thompson book as well. I bought it sort of out of curiousity. I have to say I find it quite impressive, though I have to say the recipes in there must be difficult for non-Thais to work with. Also, I find giving recipes for 1 serving a little tedious. Though it is true that many dishes are prepared one at a time, but the ingredients are usually prepared mise en place for multiple servings.

Some of the recipes are a little different from what I know. For example, the recipe for Chilli Paste asks for Galangal--which is not in my grandmother's famous recipe, nor in others I know of. There is such a thing as Chilli Paste with Galangal, but it is not used in the same way that he proposed, and definitely is not called Nam-prik Pao.


Edited by pim (log)

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pim, thanks for the variations upon a theme. I think I'll probably go with shrimp.

OK, so: "upcoming eGullet Culinary Institute Ethnic Cuisine classes"??? I did a search. Nothing. Now that the subject's sprung, how about a few more details. It sounds like a great idea.

Re: Thompson. As someone who usually lives solo, I like a recipe in serving size that can be used as is or easily scaled up for entertaining. Scaling up is somehow easier than scaling down. I'm sure after I've explored the cuisine and become familiar with the way ingredients and dishes interact, it will all make more sense to me. For me now, it's as if the the phonemes and morphemes are in disarray, scattered sounds, instead of forming a language. I like Thai food, but can't always figure out what went into making me like the dish, identifying nam pla (sounds so much more inviting than fish sauce) with the same ease as sensing the presence of worstershire.

Judging by my own experience, I think the chief impediment to explore cooking unfamiliar cuisines is that no book prepares me for the flood of new ingredients when I enter the market. Nor does it lead me to combine them as easily as I do in familiar cuisines. I can cook many things in the American, English, French, Italian style without reference to particular recipes. What I have done is to occasionally incorporate some ingredients as supplements to my usual array of condiments, spices, flavors in ways that probably have little to do with their use in their native cuisine. (For example, I read somewhere that the Chinese use dried tangerine peel, so I dried and added it as an element in my braises. It enriches my cooking. Someday I'll take time to research how it's used in Chinese cuisine.)

Even a book such as Uncommon Vegetables...doesn't cover grape or apple eggplant, though their names may be clues. And the little line drawings of fruits and vegetables are mostly useful for those you already know. Because Citron is missing, I still don't know whether it's the same in Asia as in Italy. So I look forward to eGullet's exploration of Ethnic Cuisines. It would be nice to have a version of "Culinary Artistry" for Asian Cuisine. I've seen nothing like that in the bookstore or library.

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It would be nice to have a version of "Culinary Artistry" for Asian Cuisine.  I've seen nothing like that in the bookstore or library.

Not "Culinary Artistry," but . . .

Bruce Cost, Asian Ingredients : A Guide to the Foodstuffs of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam

Linda Bladholm & Jonathan Eismann, The Asian Grocery Store Demystified

Loukie Werle & Jill Cox, Ingredients (Not entirely Asian, but lots of Asian food--from fish to vegetables to condiments--with fantastic pictures)

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OK, so: "upcoming eGullet Culinary Institute Ethnic Cuisine classes"???  I did a search.  Nothing.  Now that the subject's sprung, how about a few more details. It sounds like a great idea.

There is a whole forum here.

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pim, thanks for the variations upOn a theme. I think I'll probably go with shrimp.

You're welcome. :-) Do try the Lemon Basil if you could find them. They will make a difference.

OK, so: "upcoming eGullet Culinary Institute Ethnic Cuisine classes"???  I did a search.  Nothing.  Now that the subject's sprung, how about a few more details. It sounds like a great idea.

Thanks Jinmyo for the pointer. I will update the information on the Ethnic Cuisine section as soon as I get them from the ohter instructors.

Re: Thompson. As someone who usually lives solo, I like a recipe in serving size that can be used as is or easily scaled up for entertaining.

Except that some of those recipes are so complex and take too many steps to really be viable for a one serving dish. A lot of the "Miang" or even "Yum" recipes for example, they are never supposed to be made for one person. They are more like something one'd make when one has guests over for the afternoon.

This discussion has really given me some great ideas about lesson planning. I think doing something that we've done here, such as giving a base recipe for a stir fry then adding a variation on the theme would make it easier for people who are not wholly familiar with Thai cuisine.

And perhaps we will also need a section on Potentially Dangerous Ingredients, to prevent a scenario akin to your root canal. :-)


Edited by pim (log)

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pim, I would suggest that for beginners, you keep up the practice in the recipe you posted of suggesting brands for such thing as chilli paste, shrimp paste, etc. That was very helpful.

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Matthew, I somehow missed your suggestions when I just posted. I've been thumbing through the "Guide" and "Asian Grocery", but decided to await the results of this thread before buying any more cookbooks. I try to check out "Ingredients." Pictures sound enticing.

Everyone's been very generous in their suggestions. I'm running out of shelf space, so I want to get only books I can count on finding useful.

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I have a friend that is a beginner cook. She is very much interested in Asian cooking, however she is only versed on one or two Japanese recipes. Most of her cooking repertoire comes from old 60's versions of Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens cook books. Unfortunately, since I live a good distance from her, I can not teach her to cook directly. Can anyone suggest a good Asian cookbook that may be geared towards my friends abilities?

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2 of my favorite basic Asian cookbooks are 'Let's cook Japanese Food'-Amy Kaneko (homestyle Japanese food) & 'Everyday Asian'-Marnie Henricksson (easy recipes,my favorites are Vietnamese Chicken salad & Green beans w/ minced pork)-those are 2 he or she could cook dinner from, while becoming comfortable w/ Asian ingredients. A good all-around basic cookbook is Corinne Trang's 'Essentials of Asian Cuisine'-these would all help w/ fundamentals of Asian cooking, although there are lots of other wonderful cookbooks...

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Ahh The easy recipes are what I am looking for, as she is still a very new cook. Thank you for the suggestions! There are a lot of cookbooks out there, and the ones I have unfortunately are too advanced for her skill level currently, and I was getting overloaded trying to figure out what books would be good for a new cook.

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