Chinese

The Best Cookbook for Asian Food 101

by:
March  3, 2016

To accompany our very competitive, NCAA-style tournament of cookbooks, we asked you—our readers!—to get in on the fun and test and review 15 cookbooks dubbed Piglet Community Picks. Read on for some of our community's reactions to Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes—and keep up with all the reviews here.

Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes is a fun, friendly cookbook with a promise:

“kitchen ideas that you can turn to for easy eating on a real-life schedule and budget.”

My kind of cooking.

Even though the author recommends buying a wok and rice cooker and there’s an extensive list of pantry ingredients, I decided to test the promise put forth and make do with the ingredients and tools I had to see where that took me. (I did end up going to Whole Foods and buying miso—but that was all.)

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Top Comment:
“We are lucky to live not far from an Asian grocery store, but most of the ingredients can be found either at a Whole Foods or well-stocked grocery store. Most of the dishes do not stick around long enough to be left overs.”
— garlic&lemon
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The first two things I made weren’t smashing successes. The skin on the Lacquered Roast Chicken was leathery and chewy, and, despite marinating in soy, honey, and salt overnight, the meat was under-seasoned. The garlic cloves in the Greens with Whole Garlic was both bitterly overcooked on the outside and raw on the inside. But it couldn't have been easier to make.

So I was up to giving the book another shot and decided to have a dinner party using recipes from the cookbook.

The Gado Gado dip—a (probably not authentic but still really delicious) hot, spicy, funky peanut sauce—seemed watery when it came out of the food processor, but thickened nicely after chilling. We enjoyed the leftover sauce on noodles and vegetables later in the week.

The main dish I made turned out to be my favorite from the cookbook so far—Cumin Lamb. You toast and grind cumin seeds and Sichuan peppercorns (and, yes, you should do this—it is amazing), mix them with salt and chili flakes, and toss slices of lamb in the mixture as a marinade. You pan-fry a mess of onions, scoop them into a bowl, then stir-fry the lamb with scallions, garlic, soy sauce, and wine. Toss in the onions, fold in some cilantro, and serve with steamed rice, and you have a restaurant-worthy main dish. It was one of the best things I made last year.

More: Lucky Peach's oddest sauce is also the most flavorful.

The vegetable side—Miso-Glazed Eggplant—ended up being a tad salty, but my guests didn’t seem to be bothered by it a bit. They ate it all up.

Then. Dessert.

The first “recipe” in the chapter is…oranges with a long essay about fruit and why it’s a treat at the end of an Asian meal. I love oranges as much as anyone else (and I did serve them), but I also like to bake, so I decided to try the second (and last) dessert recipe in the book: Egg Custard Tarts.

I should have realized from the beginning that it was going to be a disaster when the recipe said to cut 3-inch circles to fit the wells in a standard muffin tin. Six-inch circles would’ve been the right size. And then:

  • The recipe didn’t say to butter the wells—I did anyway, but probably not enough because all the tarts but one stuck to the pan when baked.
  • The recipe didn’t say to chill the tart dough before filling, but I did anyway because I could see that it was shrinking, despite extensive docking.
  • The recipe said to make the custard before you even start working with the pastry, but you can make the custard while the dough is par-baking.
  • The recipe had you stir sugar into water till dissolved (I had to warm the water) and whisk in the rest of the ingredients, but I had to use the whisk attachment on my immersion blender to get everything thoroughly blended—maybe I need to do more upper body exercises.

After all that, we didn’t hate the tarts—they were fine, but could’ve been a lot better.

The last recipe I tried was Thai-Style Lettuce Cups, and as I was sautéing the meat, I was calling to my husband, “You won’t believe how good this is!” And so it was. We ate the entire dish, which was supposed to have served four.

In the end, I decided this book is perfect for me, someone who knows how and likes to cook, but is somewhat unfamiliar with Asian food. I now know that I like my food a little less salty than the authors, and that some dishes will need different flavors to appeal to my palate. But now I can adapt the recipes accordingly. It’s so much fun to try new dishes and to find new recipes that can easily go into our weekday rotation.

I’ll just make something else for dessert.

Community member Zoe Rose on the tone of the book:

“I love the casual, laid back tone of the writing; it comes across less like a professional chef dolling out wisdom from up high and more like a drunk chef friend enthusiastically giving you advice over whiskey at 4 AM. I don't know about you, but this is the type of voice that puts me at ease and gets me excited about getting in the kitchen.

Even the somewhat tongue-in-cheek dessert recipe for ‘oranges—cut them up or don't feels genuine, like they just really like to eat fresh fruit for dessert and that's what they think you should do, too. I had oranges for dessert after a dinner of their roast chicken and greens. It hit the spot.”

14 Comments

Peony March 7, 2016
If I correctly understand one of your issues with the tarts it might have been a misunderstanding about circumference vs. diameter in terms of cutting out dough circles.
 
Author Comment
drbabs March 7, 2016
That was such an interesting comment that I went to the cookbook to see if I may have misunderstood something. Here's what it says: "Roll to a 1/8-inch thickness then punch out 3-inch (big enough to line your molds) circles with a biscuit cutter or drinking glass." The recipe also specified using a muffin tin. So I think the instruction was incorrect; I needed 6" circles for a standard muffin tin.
 
Greenstuff March 7, 2016
Not to go too mathy, peony, as I suspect you had a mental glitch on the order of a typo, but you meant radius (half the diameter), not circumference (the distance around the circle). One more apology for the nit--I'd been wondering the same thing about your basic idea.
 
Bevi March 3, 2016
I made the miso eggplant and did not get the overly salty taste you described - it might have been the brand of miso I used. The Lion's Head meatballs are great, too! Thanks for making so many recipes - this gives me a nice jumping off point.
 
Author Comment
drbabs March 3, 2016
Oh! Maybe it was my miso. I didn't think of that. I'll have to try those meatballs.
 
garlic&lemon March 3, 2016
This is my family's favorite cookbook this year. The Mall Chicken is the best version we've been able to make at home (including versions from Food52 & Cook's). Jap Chae, a Korean noodle dish, is in regular rotation, as is the Ma Po Tofu. The short ribs came out great. All the veggie recipes we've tried, we have liked. We are lucky to live not far from an Asian grocery store, but most of the ingredients can be found either at a Whole Foods or well-stocked grocery store. Most of the dishes do not stick around long enough to be left overs.
 
Author Comment
drbabs March 3, 2016
I'm so glad you mentioned those recipes-- gives me new things to try. Thanks!!
 
cookinginvictoria March 3, 2016
Great review, drbabs! I loved that you cooked so many things from this book. Must try that cumin lamb dish! :)
 
Author Comment
drbabs March 3, 2016
Thanks, yes, it's so good.
 
Melanie B. March 3, 2016
This book is randomly my 5 year old's favorite cookbook. He thinks anything in it is wonderful! I catch him reading it for fun...hmmm<br /><br />I like it for quick weeknight food. We love the pork fried rice and chicken adobo!
 
Author Comment
drbabs March 3, 2016
Wow, he's five?! Thanks for the tip. I'll have to try those.
 
healthierkitchen March 3, 2016
Great review! Sounds like I need to make some cumin lamb!
 
Robin Z. March 3, 2016
Very informative review! Can I say I knew you when?<br />
 
Author Comment
drbabs March 3, 2016
Thanks, my friend. Of course!!