Two distinct types of Asian cookbooks line the shelves in bookstores: tomes of traditional recipes handed down from one generation to the next, and encyclopedias proclaiming the legendary nutritional properties of Asian cuisine. Each has a devoted following and here are two recent favorites.
THE BOOK AND AUTHOR: "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing" by Grace Young. Young, a recipe developer on the East Coast, decided to chronicle her "culinary heritage" after realizing that she lacked even the most fundamental Chinese cooking skills. This book is the result.
PUBLISHER AND PRICE: Simon & Schuster, $27.50
FORMAT: Charming black-and-white family photos and poignant memoirs introduce each chapter. The book is organized into three sections: "Mastering the Fundamentals," "The Art of Celebration" and "Achieving Yin-Yang Harmony." This unconventional structure scatters recipes of a particular kind--chicken, soups, pork--throughout the book in various chapters including "The Breath of a Wok," "A Day Lived as if in China" and "The Meaning of Rice." This strategy makes perfect sense.
NUMBER OF RECIPES: 150
TYPE OF RECIPES: Young's recipes are a tribute to traditional Cantonese cooking techniques. In addition, she painstakingly compiled a helpful glossary of pantry staples for the Chinese cook, complete with color photos and common placement in Asian grocery stores.
WHO WOULD USE THIS BOOK: Those seeking guidance on Chinese ingredients, fans of immigrant narratives and anyone seeking authentic Chinese recipes.
THE BOOK AND AUTHOR: "A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes From Asian Kitchens" by Nina Simonds. Simonds is an authority on Asian cooking. She became intrigued with Asian cuisine as a student and has since traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia.
PUBLISHER AND PRICE: Knopf, $30
FORMAT: Arranged conventionally by ingredient. Every page has some reference to the restorative power of a particular ingredient--regardless of whether the blurb is relevant to the recipe. The most interesting information is in the introduction, which classifies foods as yin (cooling, such as spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, seafood) or yang (warming, such as ginger, garlic, beef) or neutral (rice and noodles).
NUMBER OF RECIPES: 200
TYPE OF RECIPES: Simonds developed each recipe to accommodate Americans' preoccupation with expanding waistlines and shrinking spare time. The result is an eclectic mix of recipes ranging from low-fat ("Saucy Braised Eggplant" and "Healthy Mu Shu Pork") to the very staid ("Chicken and Shark's Fin Soup" and "Flaky Scallion Pancakes"). Simonds also provides suggested remedies--including herbal tonics--for common ailments.
WHO WOULD USE THIS BOOK: This is a classy cookbook for the new-age set and for those who want to use food as a balancing influence in their lives.
Wat Gai Fan
(Tender Chicken on Rice)
(4 to 6 servings)
Proving that the foundation of a meal is rice, the Cantonese are famous for their one-pot rice dishes, gook fan. A pot of rice is cooked and, 5 minutes or so before the rice is done, a stir-fried dish that hasn't been completely cooked through is placed on top of the rice and finishes cooking from the rice's steam heat. The rich sauce, accented with ginger, melts into the rice. From the "Mastering the Fundamentals" chapter of "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen."
2 ounces Smithfield ham (may use thinly sliced Black Forest ham)
3 1/4 cups water
8 dried black Chinese or shiitake mushrooms
8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 tablespoons finely shredded ginger
1 tablespoon rice cooking wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons black soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup long grain rice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 scallion, finely julienned
If using Smithfield ham, rinse the ham in cold water. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of cold water to a boil. Add the ham and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Drain the ham; set aside to cool.
Slice the Smithfield or Black Forest ham into paper-thin slices. Cut the slices into julienne strips to make about 1/2 cup. Set aside.
In a small bowl, soak the mushrooms in 1/2 cup cold water for about 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, squeezing to remove the excess liquid; reserve the soaking liquid. Trim and discard the stems; thinly slice the caps.
In a medium bowl, combine the mushrooms with the chicken, ginger, rice wine, both soy sauces, cornstarch, sesame oil, sugar and pepper and mix with your hands to combine.
In a 2-quart saucepan, wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Drain the rice and level it; add enough cold water to cover the rice by 1 inch (about 1 3/4 cups of water). Cover and bring to a boil, never stirring the rice. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the water has almost completely evaporated, 7 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir 1 tablespoon of the oil into the chicken mixture.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or large skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and carefully swirl to coat. Spread the chicken mixture in the wok and cook, undisturbed, until the chicken begins to brown, about 1 minute. Using a metal spatula, stir-fry the chicken until it is lightly browned on all sides but not cooked through, about 1 minute.
Add the mushroom soaking liquid and reserved ham and stir-fry for about 30 seconds.
Uncover the rice and quickly spread the chicken mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the scallion. Immediately recover the pot and cook until the chicken is just cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes. Bring the pot to the table and serve immediately.
Per serving (based on 4): 374 calories, 24 gm protein, 46 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 574 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Steamed Mussels With Cilantro
Mussels strengthen the liver and kidneys and improve the body's qi, or energy. Like clams, they are used in the treatment of goiter and abdominal swelling. An old remedy--a pot of mussels cooked with several preserved eggs--is sometimes prescribed for dizziness and headaches due to deficiencies in the liver and kidneys. From the "Seafood" chapter of "A Spoonful of Ginger."
1 1/2 teaspoons canola or corn oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed with the flat edge of a knife and cut into thin slices
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup rice wine or sake
6 1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and rinsed lightly to remove any sand and placed in cold water to cover for several hours (may substitute littleneck clams or steamers)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
In a large pot or Dutch oven over high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook, tossing lightly, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the water and wine and bring to a boil.
Add the mussels to the pot. Cover and cook, shaking and stirring from time to time so that they cook evenly, until the mussels begin to open, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the pepper and cilantro, toss lightly, cover and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
Serve from the pot, scooping the mussels and some of the broth into individual soup bowls.
Per serving: 167 calories, 21 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 48 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 316 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Shoon Chow Saang Choy
(Stir-Fried Garlic Lettuce)
(4 to 6 servings)
In Hong Kong, stir-fried iceberg lettuce is extremely popular, and only the Cantonese could make iceberg so delicious. From "The Good Omen of a Fighting Fish" chapter of "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen."
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice cooking wine
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 medium head iceberg lettuce, cored and separated into leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, sugar and pepper.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or large skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the lettuce and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the salt and stir-fry until the lettuce is just limp, about 1 minute. Swirl in the sauce and cook until the lettuce is tender and bright green, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.
Per serving (based on 6): 129 calories, 2 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 279 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Broccoli or Cauliflower With a Soy-Lemon Dressing
Some Chinese doctors believe broccoli is beneficial for the eyes, and it is often prescribed for eye inflammations and nearsightedness. From the "Vegetables: Stir-Fries, Pickles and Salads" chapter of "A Spoonful of Ginger."
2 pounds broccoli or cauliflower (about 2 bunches), trimmed and cut into florets
3 to 4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Arrange the broccoli or cauliflower in a steamer tray or on a plate set on a steaming rack. Fill a wok or pot with several inches of water and heat until boiling. Place the broccoli and/or cauliflower over the boiling water and steam until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir together the soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic and sugar. Set aside.
Drain any water from the broccoli or cauliflower and place the vegetable in a serving bowl. Add the dressing, toss lightly and serve.
Per serving: 49 calories, 5 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 213 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber