This month we review a book that shows Asian cooking can be done vegan style.
A Culinary Odyssey of Vegan Recipes
By Chat Mingkwan
Book Publishing Company, 2010
Chat Mingkwan is an unabashed food adventurer with an insatiable desire to create vegan versions of traditional dishes from every Asian country. He traveled, explored, tasted, and wrote. Now he shares his culinary journey in his second book, Asian Fusion: A Culinary Odyssey of Vegan Recipes.
Born in Thailand the youngest boy in his family, he spent many hours helping his aunt prepare meals. At an early age he developed a passion for cooking, eventually pursuing his culinary career at a restaurant in France, followed by traveling and apprenticing throughout Southeast Asia and studying the different cuisines with a voracious curiosity.
In Asian Fusion, Chat shares his stunning vegan recipes and says, "Don't be put off by unfamiliar ingredients and techniques. Asian cooking is not a difficult or complicated process. In fact, by becoming familiar with the ingredients and their uses, lovers of Asian food can easily prepare any dish from any menu."
With Chat as a guide, readers will learn in meticulous detail about many unique ingredients like candy sugar, Shaoxing rice wine, and jasmine flowers. He explains that morning glory is also called water spinach or swamp cabbage and is used in stir-fries as well as enjoyed fresh as a side vegetable. He says spinach can stand in if this vegetable is unavailable.
Chat teaches how to use a clay pot, a typical cooking vessel in Chinese cuisine and work with a mortar and pestle for crushing ingredients. Special equipment is minimal and includes a shredder and slicer, steamer, and wok, keeping the kitchen quite uncluttered.
The exotic culinary journey begins in Burma with a soup of Curried Noodles called Mohingha. The two-part recipe begins with an easy-to-prepare Spice Paste of ingredients blended in the food processor. The mouthwatering Curry Broth features a base of vegetable stock and coconut milk, plenty of seasonings to spice it up, and chunks of bamboo shoots, tofu, and vermicelli noodles. The finishing touches like shallots, sliced onions, cilantro, and lime wedges are passed at the table to enhance the dining experience.
Few people have traveled to Burma, nor do they have the opportunity to taste vegan variations of national dishes like Dried Sour Curry, Ghin Thoke, Ohn Htamin, Be Ya Kiaw or Wetha See Byan until now. The author brings these to life with recipe instructions simple enough for any home chef to achieve success.
While many people are familiar with Chinese dishes like Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Hot and Sour Soup included here, they will have an opportunity to explore specialties rarely experienced in American Chinese restaurants. While hot noodle dishes are commonly eaten during the cold Chinese winters, summer diners long for cooling foods. One popular summer meal features Cold Sing Dou Noodles tossed with vegetables and a chili-spiced Sesame Sauce, finished with white pepper and sliced green onions. There's even a recipe to make your own Chinese wrappers.
The mysteries of Indian cuisine are unveiled in familiar dishes like Cucumber Raita, Dosa Masala, Lentil and Spinach Dal, and Mango Chutney, while others like Stuffed Eggplants or Turmeric Soymilk Soup will stir the curiosity of those who love to prepare unusual dishes.
The cuisine of Indonesia, influenced by the culinary flavors of many nearby countries, shares several ingredients in common throughout the Asian landscape. Items like kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, ginger, and chiles, frequently appear in Indonesian dishes like Spicy Shredded Coconut Salad or Fried Tofu with Lemongrass Sauce but also influence the flavors of Burma and Thailand.
Chat's pioneering sojourn of tasting and creating vegan renditions of Asian recipes also led him to Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam where he ferreted out the exceptional dishes in this book. Each recipe's head note provides a cultural glimpse into seasonal traditions as well as national celebrations where featured foods are always present.
Gorgeous full-color photographs with attractive food styling are interspersed throughout the book and highlight dishes with enticing appeal. One could almost taste the delicious Malaysian Spicy Okra accented with bright red bell peppers and chunks of stir-fried tofu shown opposite page 113.
Asian Fusion is pure delight to anyone who adores Asian foods and loves the experience of delving into learning about the ingredients and cooking techniques that make these varied cuisines so unique and doable. Because Asian cuisine can be surprisingly meat laden, it poses a considerable challenge to veganize. Chat has accomplished his mission to bring traditional Asian cuisine to the vegan community and has fulfilled the task with masterful skill.