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The Best Cookbook for Asian Food 101

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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:

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

My kind of cooking.

Staub Cast Iron Wok, 6QT

Staub Cast Iron Wok, 6QT

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9 Meals to Stir-Fry in a Wok

9 Meals to Stir-Fry in a Wok by Katherine Oakes

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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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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.

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The 8 Essential Tools for Chinese Cooking by Madame Huang

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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.

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How to Turn an Orange into a Fancy Dessert by Alice Medrich

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Orange Is the New Dessert

Orange Is the New Dessert by Alice Medrich

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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.

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How to Make Roast Duck Lettuce Wraps at Home

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.”

The Piglet

Tags: lucky peach, piglet community picks