Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Asia on my mind

The Asian cookbook shelf has been expanding as fast as the grocery shelves in recent years. But Asian flavors and spices are also appearing in books that are not specifically Asian in concept, a trend that is mirrored on restaurant menus from coast to coast. Here are two excellent books by two intrepid cooks and travelers that are decidedly not Asian and yet offer some tantalizing dishes from that side of the world.

In Mark Bittman's newest book, The Best Recipes in the World (Broadway), he offers over 1,000 recipes from just about every corner of the globe, including Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the Americas. What seems to unite all the recipes is that they are unpretentious, everyday foods even though many of them are considered the classic dishes of Southeast Asian, Japan, and China, and many have new twists and subtle improvements. The recipes call for mostly common fruits, vegetables, meats, and so on, and even the spices and other exotic ingredients are not so hard to attain these days. This is a grand book that looks to have been many years in the making, and obviously is the product of a man with a wide-open palate and an insatiable curiosity about how the world eats.

Clifford A. Wright's new book, Some Like It Hot (Harvard Common Press), is a wonderful collection of hot and spicy dishes from Asia and around the world by a tireless researcher and avid cook. Wright himself points out in an introductory sidebar that this book probably would not or could not have been written as recently as 15 years ago. Many of the heretofore exotic ingredients would simply have not been available to the majority of American consumers. Wright offers 350 authentic recipes from the "hot zone," or a geographical band running around the globe that extends from roughly the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. The author also gives us a glossary of spicy ingredients and an exhaustive guide to online resources for all sorts of related ingredients. This is a must-have book for anyone interested in Asian cooking, chiles, chile-based cuisine, or world cuisine in general.

Another great book to have for reference is Ken Horn's Asian Ingredients (Ten Speed Press). It is both an extensive illustrated guide to the fresh and preserved products that make up the Asian pantry and a cookbook, It is an indispensable source of information on many of the exotic ingredients of the East, with delicious and relatively simple recipes to illuminate their uses.

The following recipes are from Nirmala Narine, a spice merchant and intrepid traveler who sells spices and spice blends from all over the globe. The dishes are to be included in her forthcoming cookbook that will focus on street food from around the world especially hanoi street food tour. Her web site is www.nirmalaskitchen.com. These dishes perfectly illustrate the Asian way of transforming simple foods with the use of spices, and can translate well to the prepared foods counter.

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