The Asian Kitchen: Fabulous Recipes from Every corner of Asiaby Kong Foong Ling provides an introduction to the top Asian cuisines in 380 recipes. Each chapter/country begins with an overview of the history and geography that played a part in shaping the cuisine and its people. Etiquette, tips for communal eating, and traditions surrounding mealtimes are featured here. Each of the introductions is followed by four suggested menus and an essential flavor guide for the particular cuisine.
The countries are listed in alphabetical order, starting with Burma and ending with Vietnam. Burma (now Myanmar) has 17 recipes ranging from soups to salads, curries, and a semolina coconut cake for dessert. China is next with 40 recipes (including staples). You will find well-known dishes here, such as Egg Rolls, Hot and Sour Soup, Fried Rice, and Sweet and Sour Pork. India follows with 41 recipes. This chapter offers a mixture of chutneys, paneer, breads, chicken, lamb, pork, seafood, curries, rice, and sweets. The Indonesian section offers an impressive 57 recipes including spices and condiments, seafood, satay, salads, rice, soups, vegetables, pork, beef,, chicken, and desserts. Japan is next with 52 recipes ranging from dipping sauces and stocks to grilled dishes, rice, soups, sushi, noodles, sashimi, seafood, meat, and ice cream. Korea offers 14 recipes: kimchi, seafood, soups, grilled items, beef, and vegetables. Malaysia and Singapore have 45 recipes with condiments, appetizers, soups, noodles, chicken, rice, curries, seafood, vegetables, and fruit-laden desserts. The Philippines follows with 16 recipes. My husband’s family favorites are here, including Lumpia, Pancit, Adobo, Bistek, and Halo-Halo. Sri Lanka is the next chapter with 15 recipes: rice, seafood, and curries. Thailand has 44 recipes, from curry pastes and appetizers to salads, soups, vegetables, chicken, curries, seafood, and desserts with bananas and coconut. Those previously introduced to Thai cuisine will also see some popular dishes such as Pad Thai, Tom Yam Goong, Green Papaya Salad, and Mussaman Curry. Vietnam is the last chapter with 39 recipes: condiments, appetizers, seafood, salads, soups, vegetables, meat, and desserts. The book finishes with a measurements and conversion table.
There is a variety of simple recipes to the more complex. They are listed by their English name, with the original name occasionally featured. I do wish the original name had been added to all recipes when available. Many of the dishes are packed with vegetables and fresh ingredients. Color photos are provided for some recipes and there are also photos of people and scenes, some full-page, scattered throughout the book. Measurements are offered in US customary and metric.
For the ingredients that may require a trip to the Asian Food Market, there is an alphabetical listing at the beginning of the book with descriptions, how to use them, and a few photos. Substitutes are also offered when applicable. Following the list of ingredients, there is also a section of popular utensils and cooking techniques used in Asian cuisine.
Sri Lankan cuisine is new to me, so I focused on that section to find a recipe to feature on the blog. I came across a recipe for Butter Rice: a simple rice pilaf seasoned with spices and garnished with fried potatoes, onions, roasted cashews, and sultanas. The butter coating adds a bit of richness and the light seasoning from curry leaves, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon add a depth of flavor.
If you have an electric rice cooker, you can add the rice and spices after the toasting step, pour in the stock and salt, and set it to cook. This will take the guesswork out of when the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the spices before eating.
Curry leaves are dark green leaves popular in South Asian cooking. They become more mild when dried, so are better if frozen to retain their flavor. Do not confuse them with the dwarf curry plants sometimes seen in nurseries. I was able to find them in the produce section of a nearby Asian Food Market. Look for a market that specializes in Indian and Thai foods.
Cardamom pods are available in green and black. I used green for this recipe. Green Cardamom (Elettaria, Elaichi) originated in India and is the third most expensive spice, following saffron and vanilla. It is often used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian cooking. Green cardamom is now mostly grown in Guatemala, followed by India. It is a highly aromatic, warm citrus-like spice similar to ginger and cinnamon. Most of the flavor is in the seeds encased by the green pods. Once the pods are cut, the seeds quickly lose their flavor. I was able to find green cardamom at the local farmers market and I have also seen it at World Market. It is also available on Amazon: Cardamom Pods Green (Elachi)3.5oz- Indian Grocery . Smash the pods before adding to the recipe to expose the little black seeds.
I also tried the Grilled Beef Salad (Yum Nua) from Thailand, the Chilled Summer Noodles from China, and the Grilled Beef Rolls with a Yellow Bean Dipping Sauce from Vietnam. Chad and I recently purchased 1/4 of a cow, so our freezer is filled with beef. I loved the idea of pairing grilled beef with a light herb salad. For the salad, I mixed together cucumber, Chinese celery, tomatoes, shallots, mint, cilantro, and a little lettuce. It was tossed in a lime dressing. This was my first time eating Chinese celery and I enjoyed the texture it brought to the salad. There was not a single bite leftover. Evan and I enjoyed the Chilled Summer Noodles as a refreshing lunch to help with the increasing summer temperatures. These noodles came together quickly, were tossed with green onions and bean sprouts (not photographed, this was Evan’s bowl and he isn’t a fan), and seasoned with a light dressing made of garlic, ginger, sesame/peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and oil. Rolls and dumplings are some of my favorite foods and the Grilled Beef Rolls did not disappoint. Beef flank is covered in a lemongrass sugar marinade then lightly grilled. It is sliced and wrapped in a rice paper wrapper with mint, Thai basil, lettuce, and cilantro. The dipping sauce was a mixture of a homemade yellow bean sauce, sweet chili sauce, and peanuts. We could not get enough. I personally loved that I had all the herbs in my garden for this dish.
All the recipes I have tried so far have been spot-on, well written, and to the point. Nearly every page was bookmarked for recipes I want to try in the future. My mother in law and husband were particularly excited about the Filipino chapter.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Sri Lankan Butter Rice
Adapted from The Asian Kitchen: Fabulous Recipes from Every corner of Asia
1/4 cup (50 grams) butter or ghee
1/2 onion, finely chopped, divided
2 curry leaves
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 small cinnamon stick
2 1/2 cups uncooked Basmati rice, washed
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying
1 small potato, peeled, sliced into matchsticks
1 tablespoon roasted cashew nuts
1 teaspoon sultanas
In a large saucepan, melt butter or ghee over medium heat. Add half of the chopped onion and cook until golden and beginning to soften. Stir in the curry leaves, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, and basmati rice. Continue to stir for 5 minutes, until toasted.
Pour in the stock and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer, low heat. Cover and cook undisturbed until the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, fill a deep skillet with vegetable oil and place over medium heat. Once thoroughly heated, add the remaining chopped onion and fry until crisp and golden. Remove to a towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Add the potatoes to the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden. Remove to towel lined plate.
Remove the spice pieces from the cooked rice and serve warm with fried onions, potatoes, roasted cashews, and sultanas.