Enough cookbooks have been written about the Far East to bring diners out of dimly lit restaurants and into their own kitchens, but to many admirers of Asian foods the dishes still seem hopelessly mysterious.
Venturing into "The Southeast Asia Cookbook" by Ruth Law (Donald I. Fine, $24.95) will demonstrate how accessible the recipes are. Divided into sections dealing with the cuisines of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, the book doesn't explore the foods in-depth but makes for a nice introduction for each country.
If you're interested in looking at the food of India from a colonialist's perspective, "Curries and Bugles" by Jennifer Brennan (HarperCollins, $25) is bound to entertain with recipes and memories of life in the time of the British Raj. Her memoir is well written and romantic, and there is quite a bit of history mixed with the personal text. The chapters are divided into occasions such as picnics, large breakfasts or ladies' night at the officers' mess, and the recipes, although they're fine, serve more to illustrate the text than stand alone.
NASI MINYAK (Scented Rice) (4 servings)
2 cups long-grain rice
2 tablespoons ghee or oil
2-inch stick cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
6 shallots, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon shredded fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 cups chicken stock or water
Salt to taste
1/2 cup golden raisins for garnish
Wash rice until water runs clear. Place in a colander and let drain for 1 hour.
Heat ghee or oil in a deep pan. On medium-high heat, fry cinnamon, cloves and cardamom for 1 minute, stirring. Add shallots, garlic, ginger and turmeric, and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
Add drained rice and fry 2 to 3 minutes, until each grain is coated with ghee. Add chicken stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover pan and allow rice to cook on lowest heat until liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 18 minutes. Lift cover only long enough to check that rice has absorbed the water. Cover again. Remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes before fluffing. Garnish with raisins. Serve hot.
Per serving: 493 calories, 11 gm protein, 93 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, .8 mg cholesterol, 589 mg sodium.
From "The Southeast Asia Cookbook" by Ruth Law (Donald I. Fine, Inc., $24.95)