Farm to Table Asian Secrets:
Vegan & Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season
By Patricia Tanumihardja
Cookbook author and veteran food writer Patricia Tanumihardja's Chinese, Malaysian, and Singaporean roots shine through in her second cookbook Farm to Table Asian Secrets. Her love of Asian flavors is evident in every page as is her eagerness to give every home cook a delicious taste of the dishes she loves.
In Singapore, where she grew up, Patricia mentions "the climate meant we only had two "seasons"--hot and wet and hot and dry." The mostly imported vegetables that formed the base of Asian meals were available year round. When she moved to Pacific Grove, California, she discovered a whole new world of vegetables that were only available seasonally. Working in a farmers market, she gradually learned to adapt the farm-to-table approach to preparing her special meals.
She tells her readers that home-cooked Asian dishes are very different from those served in American Asian restaurants. Encouraging readers to learn a few "secret" Asian techniques and tricks, she says it will be easy to become creative in adapting availability of ingredients. Some of her favorite dishes can be enjoyed throughout the year by substituting one vegetable for another.
Most recipes can be prepared in typical American cooking utensils, but Patricia has some Asian favorites like a wok, cast-iron frying pans, Dutch oven, steamer basket, wire-mesh skimmer, matchstick peeler, ginger grater, and the essential mortar and pestle (hers is stone).
Cooking Tips and Techniques is an invaluable page that's packed with small details that even long-time home cooks may not know. For example, when steaming, the author suggests placing a towel under the lid of the steamer to absorb condensation. When the food is done, allow the steam to subside before lifting the lid to avoid food becoming soggy.
To Market, To Market offers planning, shopping, prepping, and storing suggestions. The following pages contain color photos of ingredients, herbs, and condiments essential to preparing her dishes.
Basic Recipes is an important chapter because it's the doorway to preparing typical Asian condiments at home as well as preparing ingredients that enhance so many familiar dishes. This section discusses making Stovetop Jasmine Rice, toasting Sesame Seeds and Coconut Flakes, baking Kale Chips, preparing Fried Shallots, and boiling tempeh in water for 10 minutes to remove the bitterness. Also covered are recipes for making homemade Sambal Oelek, Roasted Chili Paste, Korean Hot Pepper Paste, Hoisin Sauce, and Vegan Fish Sauce. Pickling, essential in Asian cooking, is also included.
Opening the recipe section is Spring Recipes packed with tempting dishes like Baby Turnips and Mushrooms in Coconut Soup known as Tom Kha. This easy dish combines coconut milk, vegetable stock, lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaves in a stockpot and brings them to a simmer. Turnips are then added and cooked until tender; then mushrooms are added. Finally, Thai chiles and seasonings add the finishing touch. At serving time, the soup is ladled into bowls. For garnishing, one crushed chili is dropped into each bowl along with some cilantro leaves.
Flaky Chinese Pancakes with Chive Blossoms is beautifully illustrated with step-by-step photos, resulting in a delicious experience one would not find on a restaurant menu. The Crispy Spring Rolls recipe is also illustrated with multiple steps that show how they are wrapped.
Summer Recipes feature attractively photographed Golden Fresh Corn Fritters, delicious Edamame with Chili Salt, and Mixed Vegetable Salad with Indonesian Peanut Sauce, a dish from Patricia's home country. Page 85 features a winning photo of a Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich with the complete recipe on the opposing page. Noodle lovers will enjoy a couple of tempters like Buckwheat Noodles and Shoyu Dipping Sauce and the very colorful Crispy Noodles with Savory Vegetables.
Autumn Recipes showcase cooler weather foods like apples, butternut squash, beets, and sweet potatoes in hearty fall recipes. This chapter shows how to make Curried Vegetable Turnovers, Chinese Mushroom Buns, and those delicious Sticky Rice Su Mai Dumplings. Also included is General Tso's Eggplant that's known famously in many Chinese restaurants as General Tso's Chicken. The author says cauliflower also makes a good stand-in for the tasty eggplant.
Winter Recipes bring wontons, Korean pancakes, and Kung Pao Potatoes to the table. Cauliflower lovers may gravitate to the Sweet Soy Black Pepper Cauliflower. Brussels Sprouts are enhanced with a Sweet Chili Sauce while parsnips turn up in a Burmese Style Pumpkin and Parsnip Curry. And wouldn't anyone be grateful for a bowl of Warming Vegetable Pho on a chilly winter day?
The book is a graphic beauty with numerous color photos. Throughout the book are helpful Tips shown in olive green boxes with white lettering. The book is enhanced with thick, sturdy pages that will stand up to frequent handling. Some photos display full color finished dishes, while others are small photos that show the step-by-step process of making a complex dish. Because the pages are not clay-coated, the photos are not shiny, but the colors are brilliant enough to dazzle anyone thumbing through the book.
Farm to Table Asian Secrets is an impressive work. The author truly does share the secrets of successful Asian home cooking by including the small, yet important details. While some of the dishes are found on restaurant menus, most are very special and geared only to the home cook. Anyone who loves Asian food and enjoys cooking will treasure the traditional recipes in this book. Consider the book an ideal gift for someone special who appreciates Asian dishes at their best.