Phil's Cookbook Reads of 2021

phatch

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In a similar vein, I skimmed bowl by Lukas Volger. This is billed as vegetarian recipes for Ramen, Pho. Bibimbap, dumplings and other one dish meals. This is more to my thinking about bowls although still twisted more healthy/vegetarian than I would approach them. But the Asian focus is a good start.

The organization is wheat noodles, then rice noodles and rice, then other grains, dumplings, and basics. I'm seeing this more and more lately where the oft repeated steps for stock and such is moved to the back. I think this helps limit skip reading gets readers into the more interesting topics.

The Rice noodles and rice was the more interesting to me. Lukas give a vegetarian pho variation for the goods available in each season, some bibimbap and then with the rice two bowls I work with now and then already. A kimchi fried rice bowl and chirashi (sushi bowl) The kimchi bowl gets some par-fried lettuce-an iffy addition in my book but with romaine lettuce I can get on board with the idea. Lukas gives some good advice/instruction on the adding of the soy sauce, about it hitting a hot spot in the pan so it can go through the chemical changes of high heat cooking, bringing out its flavors and complexity.

Kenji calls out this point while making egg-fried rice over three different stoves

Back the to kimchi fried rice, Lukas also makes a quick cucumber pickle. I'm not sure how I feel about this as the kimchi is already pretty acidic. But checking quantities, he only adds 1 tablespoon of the kimchi juice/brine and I've normally added more. So I guess it depends how much kimchi and juice you're using.

The Sushi bowl gets a sort of teriyaki glazed sweet potato that looks to work well. I'll be using that idea to punch up the vegetable content in my sushi bowls. The teriyaki glaze is the sauce.

In the other grains section, he lost me with the black rice burrito bowl. You lose the spanish rice flavors and the presentation is all kinds of wrong.

Dumplings, there are some interesting base ideas, but they really call out for a sauce to accent and unify the ingredients.

Unless you're really looking for vegetarian interpretations of classic asian cuisine, I don't think this is the right bowl book for an omnivore.
 

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Thread Summary to date

This is the list as I've tabulated it. This includes the few I did not finish and are noted as such. Also shown separately are the books I just skimmed. Bolded books are the ones that I think had special merit for my knowledge and cooking. Red are books that I found of low value or just bad. These are judged on my personal valuation of the book, not as it may apply to others as much.

1 Cooking South of the Clouds by Georgia Freedman
2 The Yunnan Cookbook by Annabel Jackson
3 Chinese Cooking: The Food and the Lifestyle by Annabel Jackson
4 Indian and Chinese Cooking from The Himalayan Rim by Copeland Marks
5 Sheet Pan Chicken by Kathy Erway
6 A Chinese Street Food Odyssey Helen Tse
7 The Adobo Road Cookbook by Marvin Gapultos
8 The Best of Singapore Cooking Did Not Finish
9 Homestyle Malay Cooking by Rohani Jelani
10 Binging With Babish by Andrew Rea
11 Chinese Feasts and Festivals by S. C. Moey
12 Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan
13 Xi'an Famous Foods by Jason Wang
14 Chinatown Kitchen by Lizzie Mabbot
15 Beans Greens & Sweet Georgia Peaches by Damon Fowler
16 Lao Style Recipes by Barbara Riddle
17 Fried Rice: 50 Ways to stir up the worlds favorite grain by Danielle Centoni
18 Food of Singapore by David Wong
19 Rodney Scott's World of BBQ by Rodney Scott
20 Chinese Cookery by Ken Hom
21 100 Techniques by America's Test Kitchen
22 Simple Asian Meals by Nina Simonds
23 Northern Chinese Favorites by Daniel Reed
24 Chopsticks Cleaver and Wok by Jennie Low
25 The Joy of Chinese Cooking by doreen-yen feng did not finish
26 Chinese Food: Adventures in the World of Eating
27 Wok On Ching-He Huang
28 Mr. Jiu's in Chinatown by Brandon Jew
29 Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee
30 Parwana by Durkhanai Ayubi
31 Night + market Did not finish
32 Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford
33 My Shanghai by Betty Liu
34 Masala Lab by Krish Ashok*
35 Hong Kong Local by Archan Chan
36 Makan by Elizabeth Haigh
37 Lucky Peach 101 Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan
38 bowls! by Molly Watson

Books I skimmed rather than taking more time with
  • Simple Chinese Cooking by Kylie Kwong--I would like to spend more time with this book, but can't locate a copy in my libraries and I've not purchased it.
  • My China by Kylie Kwong--very travelogue
  • bowl by Lukas Volger
*Masala Lab was of low value to me. I think the book does a good job of bringing a western understanding of technique and flavor Indian food. The importance of browning reactions, that flavors are more soluble in fat and alcohol and such things. But I was hoping for a better understanding of the use and combining of spice mixes in Indian cooking. It did not deliver on my expectations. I don't consider it a bad book per se, just not what I wanted from the early reviews I read.

Currently reading Olives, Lemons & Za'atar by Raiwa Bishara.
 

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Added:

Rice by Michael W. Twitty This is the latest release in the Savor The South series, focusing on specific ingredients, or dishes of Southern (USA) cuisine. I've really enjoyed this series of cookbooks. Twitty is best known for his book, The Cooking Gene. It's highly recommended in the foodie culture, but I struggled with it. It's about cooking culture in the south and the racism, not about cooking itself so much.

Japanese in 7 by Kimiko Barber. This is a series of cookbooks focused on using a reduced ingredient set to simplify often complex cuisines. I've seen a few others in this series such as Indian in 7 as well. Generally, this is not an approach I love, but I still find it interesting.

An: To Eat by Helene An, a Vietnamese cookbook
 

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Olives, Lemons and Za'atar by Rawia Bishara

While ostensibly about Middle Eastern cooking, and it is, its' more focused on three things.
Her growing up in Nazareth and what they ate
Her restaurant In New York, Tanoreen which is reflective of her own preferences and customer demands.
Her preference for bolder than traditional flavors, especially cinnamon and allspice.

She does pull in some Morrocan and Lebanese and other things here and there, but things that have already drifted across borders in contemporary times as things do.

So it's not strictly traditional or authentic if those words have a specific meaning and value to you in ethnic cuisine.

She's a bit heavy with oil for my preferences--eggs in bread for 6 made with half cup of oil total--though eggs in olive oil with sumac is a worthy dish.

Sweet spices in savory applications especially cinnamon is not my preference. I find cinnamon very powerful and it often overwhelms a dish. So I struggled with this book in ways that are unfair to the content on its own.

For the most part, the ingredients are easy to come by. Mastic is probably the trickiest and it's used rarely.

Because I recently made Hainanese Chicken Rice, the Seasoned Chicken with Stock struck me with its similarities. It's a spice poached chicken with the meat and broth used separately. The main differences are the chicken is in parts, it gets an initial sear, and the spices are different. She doesn't serve this on its own though, just for use in other dishes.

There's a lot of stuffing of various foods. I appreciated her note in the Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage about doing these kinds of dishes "lasagne" style in alternating layers of wrapper and filling. It does simplify the assembly and cooking.

I picked up a few pointers and saw some new things, but her approach and preferences in flavor just really aren't a good match to my preferences. If you enjoy the sweet warm spices in savory applications, you'll likely enjoy her food.

Next up, Hunan: A Lifetime of Secrets from Mr. Peng's Chinese Kitchen. Another restaurant cookbook, this time tilted to a stream of small dishes.
 

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I neglected to comment on two red lentil dishes that caught my eye. One a pureed soup, the other a "stew" of lentils and butternut squash or sweet potato. The latter is likely a winner with my daughter who likes lentils and sweet potatoes.

Red Lentil and Butternut Squash Stew​

If you make this stew once, there is no going back. The butternut squash adds a mellow sweetness but it is also delicious with chunks of yams, carrots or even pumpkin. Use one of these vegetables or a mix to make this stew, and serve it piping hot, warm (my preference), or chilled.

SERVES 6–8


120ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
4 shallots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 garlic cloves, crushed
2 chillies, such as jalapeños or poblanos
a large handful of chopped fresh coriander
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 butternut squash, peeled and diced
340g red lentils, picked over

Heat 6 tablespoons olive oil in a large casserole dish over medium-high heat. When hot, sauté the shallots and onion until soft and golden, 3–4 minutes. Stir in the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then the chillies, coriander, cumin, black pepper, about 1 minute. Add the squash and stir to incorporate, then reduce the heat and cook, covered, about 10 minutes.

Tip in the lentils and 1 litre water, then cover and cook for about 12 minutes. If the squash has not softened, add 250ml additional water, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Ladle the stew into serving bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve.
 

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Added Mooncakes & Milkbread by Kristina Cho--release Oct 12. It's about Chinese baking, sweet and savory items.

Sambal Shiok The Malaysian Cookbook by Mandy Yin, 11/2 another UK restauranteur.

These might not make it into my 2021 reading. We'll see.
 

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Hunan: A Lifetime of Secrets From Mr. Peng's Chinese Kitchen by Mr Y. S. Peng

Really interesting cooking, very frustrating scale. The restaurant, Hunan, at the heart of this cookbook has a somewhat different method of operation. There is no set menu. And the food comes as a stream of small servings, diners often sharing 15-16 different dishes. The recipes reflect that small serving size.

He writes about using vinegar is an uncharacteristic way. He calls for white wine and red wine vinegar. I'm pretty sure he means regular rice vinegar and red rice vinegar. But I'm not positive.

He uses the term "slaked cornflour" for a paste of cornflour 3 parts water to 1 part flour. That's a strange usage of slaked to me.

I was introduced to a few new ingredients, mostly various pickled. dried, fermented vegetables. Mei cai for example is used in a particular pork belly dish. He talks about it in the intro. He talks about it in the directions. It never shows up with amounts in the ingredients list. So I'm assuming its intended to use a whole jar? And Dong Cai from Taiwan is something I'll have to keep an eye out for.

Oddities aside, the instructions are clear and well presented and the food appealing.

A sample recipe, Egg-wrapped Soup
pg113.jpg

Egg-wrapped soup​


This dish is beautiful to look at; the way the crêpe opens up is like a flower, especially when you add the stock and the leaves float up like the petals in a water lily. It’s really quite stunning and serene.


Makes 8 portions


2 eggs, beaten
6 quail’s eggs, hard boiled and halved
400g minced pork
3 water chestnuts, finely chopped
80g shredded meat from ham hock
6 dried Chinese mushrooms, reconstituted and finely chopped
12 mooli balls, made with melon baller
2 tbsp minced crab meat
1 slice ginger
1 spring onion stalk
pinch of salt
stock to cover


For the seasoning:
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
pinch salt
½ tbsp cornflour


To serve:
½ cherry tomato


Start by making a thin crêpe with just the eggs. Put a little oil into a frying pan and heat until nearly smoking. Put a thin layer of the beaten egg into the bottom of your frying pan and fry until set.

Mix all of the seasoning together in a bowl and adjust for flavour.

In a bowl, mix the finely chopped mushroom with the ham hock.

Put the minced pork in the bowl with the seasoning.

Line a large bowl, around 20 cm in diameter, with the crêpe. Place the crab meat in the centre at the bottom of the bowl on the crepe.

Arrange the quail’s eggs in a circle around the crab meat, white side down.

Arrange the ham hock mix to the outer edges of the quail’s eggs, without covering the eggs.

Put the seasoned minced pork on top of the crab meat, quail’s eggs and ham hock in one uniform layer.

In the centre, you should have a void. Put the mooli balls into the centre and press down so that it’s even.

If there’s excess crêpe left, fold over the middle.

In the middle, add a pinch of salt, the ginger and spring onion.

Cover loosely with cling film and steam for 20 minutes.

Leave the parcel to rest for 30 minutes and then turn the pork mince parcel into a bigger bowl. You should now have an upturned dome.

Carefully cut the crêpe into eight equal portions, as you might divide a cake, without cutting through the whole parcel, and pull back the crêpe to reveal a flower.

Add warmed stock to the bowl until the crêpe leaves begin to float like a flower.

Garnish with the cherry tomato in the middle and serve.
Beautiful dishes abound with appealing flavors. For me, it's more about how does this kind of cooking fit into my life.

I'd like to see him write a family style cookbook. But as it is, I'll have to experiment with scaling these ideas up if I'm to cook as much from this book as I'd like.
 

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Made the red lentil soup with lemon from Olives, lemons and Za'atar. Pretty good especially with a dollop of yogurt.
 
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Hunan: A Lifetime of Secrets From Mr. Peng's Chinese Kitchen by Mr Y. S. Peng

Really interesting cooking, very frustrating scale. The restaurant, Hunan, at the heart of this cookbook has a somewhat different method of operation. There is no set menu. And the food comes as a stream of small servings, diners often sharing 15-16 different dishes. The recipes reflect that small serving size.

He writes about using vinegar is an uncharacteristic way. He calls for white wine and red wine vinegar. I'm pretty sure he means regular rice vinegar and red rice vinegar. But I'm not positive.

He uses the term "slaked cornflour" for a paste of cornflour 3 parts water to 1 part flour. That's a strange usage of slaked to me.

I was introduced to a few new ingredients, mostly various pickled. dried, fermented vegetables. Mei cai for example is used in a particular pork belly dish. He talks about it in the intro. He talks about it in the directions. It never shows up with amounts in the ingredients list. So I'm assuming its intended to use a whole jar? And Dong Cai from Taiwan is something I'll have to keep an eye out for.

Oddities aside, the instructions are clear and well presented and the food appealing.

A sample recipe, Egg-wrapped Soup
View attachment 70868


Beautiful dishes abound with appealing flavors. For me, it's more about how does this kind of cooking fit into my life.

I'd like to see him write a family style cookbook. But as it is, I'll have to experiment with scaling these ideas up if I'm to cook as much from this book as I'd like.
Could red vinegar be Zhejiang vinegar, and white be plain rice vinegar?
 

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I agree that he's talking about rice vinegar most likely. The red vinegar is I think an actual red rice vinegar rather than black/chinkiang/zhejiang vinegar. He does use black vinegar and calls it as such.


I suspect his usage is a carryover of westerners calling rice ferment products wine. It may also be an artifact of older UK usage that is less prevalent among younger UK writers.

This particular fungus that produces red yeast rice produces lovastatin at low levels and is used in the traditional medicine of China. A few of the popular mushrooms do as well.
 

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Chicken & Rice by Shu Han Lee

The author is again a Singapore expat in the UK though she's not as strictly focused on Singapore/Malaysia. She also delves into some of her favorite Thai, Filipino, Vietnamese dishes. Additionally I would characterize her approach as diaspora cooking with local substitution for traditional cuisine. While this can be construed as fusion, this is more of an economic make-do home approach than a structured culinary effort.

There's some re-tread ground here of course. What stood out to me were the fish balls and fish cake recipes. I do have versions of these in my notes from a website some time back, I like having a book reference for them now as well. Additionally, my notes encouraged the use of commercial fish paste from the freezer case, so I could just as well have bought fish balls/cakes as the paste...

I was put off by her spring vegetable pho. If I become vegetarian, maybe I'll give it a go. but asparagus just doesn't sit right in my internalized expectation of pho.

She refers to the laksa leaf as Hot Mint, which I'm used to seeing as rau ram in my grocers.

I think it'a a pretty good book for a westerner approaching the cuisine(s) and I expect to refer back to it again.

Additionally, I did some skimming of The Curry Guy Bible. I stumbled across his blog, https://greatcurryrecipes.net/ while looking up info on the curry base to individual curry technique. He offers some ideas there. And the ... Bible has a section on British Indian Restaurant food that is where he discusses his approach to a curry base that you then convert quickly into various restaurant curries, in the manner restaurants actually use. 20 or so curries, 5 base recipes and seasoning mixes. Interesting stuff. Haven't tried any of it, but it looks like a good method for quick curry weeknight meals if you've already made the base.
 
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I have the chicken & rice book as well (it was 0.99 £ as a daily kindle deal :) ).
I haven't cooked from it yet, but it looks pretty OK to me.
Laksa leaf seems to go by a lot of different names. I am trying to get some to grow here as I think it will do well. It's not coriander (cilantro) at all, but it has a slight taste similarity and coriander doesn't want to grow here. It bolts when it is about 5-10 cm high!

As for "the curry guy", I've checked the books, but they do not really appeal to me. I do have another book that focusses on British Indian Restaurant curry and starts of with a curry base. "the curry secret" by Kris Dhillon Maybe check that one as well:
 

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I'll have to take a look at The Curry Secret.

You might try to grow culantro, Mexican Coriander. I was mistaken that it was the same as laksa.

Next is Nom Wah. This was one I was excited about at the beginning of the year. It looks like a pretty serious Dim Sum cookbook.

The Human Interest story on the radio news today was about Brai Day in South Africa. It made me think about your usage of the term.
 
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I tried culantro.
I know it as sawtooth herb and pakchi farang ;)
It grows for a little while and then fizzles out. I have to try get seeds again.

Didn't know it was braai-day. Luckily I am going to throw some pork chops on it, so I am not losing out ;) :)
 

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Another thing about Chicken & Rice, she uses shallot/garlic oil quite a bit. This is something I first picked up insight into with Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking by Eileen Yin Fei Lo. There she makes four oils as part of her idea of a basic Chinese Pantry, Hot Pepper oil, Scallion oil (see the review of My Shanghai for more on that), Onion Oil and Garlic Oil. Shu Han Lee gives instructions for her oils, and uses the crispy shallots and garlic bits in dishes as well. I'm glad to see this use of seasoned oil come out more.

On Youtube, I follow Taste Show. "Chef John" makes frequent use of his custom Aroma Oil--a custom sesame oil.


One thing none of them ever talk about is food safety. If not consumed "quickly" and stored cold, most of these are at some risk for botulism. --Most of the chile oils based in all dried ingredients have a long safe storage. But beware if you add fresh garlic. Make amounts you'll use in a few weeks.
 

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The Nom Wah Cookbook by Wilson Tang

Some of the books this year had some pretty glowing press. This is one of those. Mr. Jiu's had a lot, Rodney Scott's World of BBQ got quite a bit. Bress 'n' Nyam (which I've still to acquire), Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food--my next read.

Nom Wah didn't measure up. At least a third of it is just stories: growing up Chinese in the US, the prior owner, the tea vendor... And the dumplings were of limited variety.

Oddities

The rice wrapper for the Cheung Fun is not just rice flour and water but a blend of rice, tapioca starch, wheat starch and potato starch without any real explanation of why. At least help me understand why you make the deviations so I can learn.

A sweet and sour beef filet of sliced flank steak.

The Chinese Chopped Cheese dumplings,--basically a hacked up cheeseburger dumpling with a sauce of may ond ketchup. It sounds fine, but what does it really accomplish over eating a cheeseburger?

Arrancini--This is just leftover fried rice bound with eggs and potato starch, sort of like you would make a potato patty from leftover mashed potatoes. I get why he calls it arrancin being a fried rice ball, but it has no stretchy filling or any separate filling at all. I think the name doesn't really apply. Just call it a fried rice ball.

Good things
I like the simple way he handles the master filings and even supports blending them for different results. Pork Master Filling, Shrimp Master Filling, No Pork No Shrimp Master Filling (vegies) Very flexibly used throughout the book.

The Soup Dumpling is not too complex and uses fairly easy ingredients.

It may be a good dim sum joint, but the cookbook is just average at best. There's little explanation of why they do what they for particular results. Just do this. There are better and deeper dim sum books available.
 

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Adding 11/23 Damn Good Chinese Cookbook
12/28 Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook
 
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