Cookbook review written & photographed by Andrea Savard
The moment I opened this attractive and well-organized book I was impressed and excited to start cooking! I have always been a huge fan of Asian cuisine. Unfortunately, since soy sauce traditionally contains wheat and is one of the main ingredients used in Asian dishes, this means I typically need to avoid the cuisine. I am always envious when I see people picking up takeout orders from their neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. Being able to eat at any restaurant without second thought is something you take for granted until suddenly you’re faced with strict dietary constraints. But thanks to Laura Russell’s The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen: recipes for noodles, dumplings, sauces & more (published by Celestial Arts, $22.99 USD) I will now be able to enjoy all of my favorite Asian fare again.
What I love about this book is the colourful and well-photographed food, which is a refreshing change from many GF cookbooks out there (and a personal pet peeve). I like the way that Russell organizes the recipes into categories, instead of by country of origin as is the case with many Asian cookbooks. She even includes an entire chapter for desserts and Asian inspired cocktails (the Saketini, made with cucumber and lime was light and refreshing).
The ingredients listed in this book are mostly available at local grocery stores; surprisingly I had the majority of ingredients on hand already. All of the recipes appear to be very user friendly, although the dumplings looked like they would require a solid afternoon’s time commitment.
This cookbook has taught me that cooking delicious, gluten-free Asian inspired dishes is easier than I thought. It requires a few different combinations of spices and some items that might not be in your cupboard, but everything is readily available in most grocery stores. This book will be a mainstay in my kitchen. With summer officially over and temperatures starting to dip, I look forward to cooking up warming dishes such as Asian Braised Short Ribs with Star Anise, Gingery Pork Potstickers, along with the abundant number of curries listed in the book.
Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Pork Satay, Nuac Cham & Peanut Satay Sauce
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 (great flavours overall, amazing marinade for the pork)
THE TEST: The Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad is an easy recipe, leaving lots of room for improvisation. Rice noodles, cilantro, and mint along with carrots, daikon, red radish, cucumber and lots of green onion are all listed ingredients but you could easily use zucchini, lettuce, broccoli, or any other vegetable you enjoy. I loved the combination of the veggies with mint and cilantro and when combined with the saltiness of fish sauce it was a flavour profile that I will be making often. I can picture using it on grilled tofu, or grilled chicken. Mmm…delicious.
I initially chose this recipe as it allowed me to try making two different sauces along with one of the marinated grilled items in the book. I was in dire need of creating something more memorable then my usual steak with salt and pepper from the BBQ. I was in a culinary rut and needed to break free!
The Grilled Pork Satay required a bit of prep time, as the pork needs to marinate for at least eight hours. This would be the perfect item to make up on a Sunday for grilling after work on a Monday night. The marinade ingredients included garlic, ginger, rice wine vinegar, coconut milk, and wheat free soy sauce, along with a bit of Siracha. I mixed those ingredients together in the food processor, but you could also mince and mix by hand. The instructions on how to cut the meat was a bit confusing as it didn’t include the dimensions, but I ended up slicing the meat into thin round strips. I placed two or three pieces on each skewer, after marinating the meat in a Ziploc bag overnight. It was a bit messy putting the meat on the skewers, next time I will skewer the meat first before marinating. Once grilled, the pork was tender and full of flavour from the coconut milk and garlic and ginger.
As for the two sauces, they were quite straightforward. For the Nuac Cham, I used a small bowl with a lid so I could save it in the fridge. I mixed together sugar, water, fish sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, garlic and red pepper flakes. This recipe only required a measuring cup and a spoon. It is a pungent sauce (smells like feet) as the fish sauce holds a distinct flavour, but once poured over noodles it is tasty.
The Peanut Satay Sauce called for peanut butter or almond butter, soy sauce, ginger, brown sugar, mirin, Siracha, coriander, water, and lime juice. All the ingredients except for the lime juice were combined in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sauce is hot, the lime juice is stirred in. This was one of the better peanut/almond sauces I have tried and the coriander is a nice touch.
THE RESULTS: The rice noodle salad with the accompaniment of two different sauces and grilled pork, was a beautiful mix of complimenting and contrasting flavours without being overwhelming. The rice noodles, vegetables, mint and cilantro created a cool contrast to the spicy sweet pork. The Nuac Cham gave the dish a bit of moisture and the noodles and raw veggies a good salty, sweet flavour.
Khao Man Gai with Fiery Ginger Sauce
RATING: 5 out of 5 (this recipe was delightful, a fresh way to serve chicken)
THE TEST: This recipe was very straightforward: poach the chicken in chicken broth along with ginger for 15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the meat or it will get too dry, and then let the chicken cool before removing the skin and slicing the meat off the bone.
I’ll admit, I would never have thought to place raw chicken breasts into boiling water as I have issues with chicken, but I was willing to give it a try. Turns out this is a really great way to serve chicken cold.
While I was poaching the chicken, I made the Fiery Ginger Sauce, which is made up of six cloves of garlic, soy sauce, miso paste, rice vinegar, and ½ cup of minced ginger; a food processor really comes in handy here. The sauce is something I could use on everything. It’s not super sticky sweet as some sweet hot sauces tend to be, and has the right amount of fire. The sweet combined nicely with the heat of ginger. I couldn’t find red jalapeños, so I used red birdseye chilies which turned out to be more than an adequate replacement.
THE RESULTS: The recipe calls for garlic rice and also uses the garlicky chicken broth from the poached chicken, so I would suggest scaling back the amount of garlic in the broth to two cloves if you plan on leaving the house or speaking to people in the days following this meal.
The combination of cool, moist chicken with garlic rice and lots of fresh cilantro, piles of freshly sliced cucumber (from the farmers market) with the Fiery Ginger Sauce was the perfect dish to eat on a balmy evening, and even better the next day for lunch. This is something that will definitely be a part of my regular repertoire.
Braised Tofu in Mushroom Sauce
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 (this recipe was tasty & one that I could easily add to the dinner rotation each week)
THE TEST: I chose this recipe because I was craving something that was not grilled. I tend to use the grill on a daily basis in the summer. I also needed to curb my current carnivore streak, and this recipe had all of my favourite elements: shitake mushrooms, green beans (fresh from the farmers market oh my), and crispy coated tofu with lots of flavourful sauce to make it taste like something good.
The tofu was first coated in potato starch and then fried lightly in vegetable oil. The sauce was made from soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sake (or dry sherry), birdseye chilis, and vegetable broth since I could not find mushroom broth.
THE RESULTS: The only disappointment with this dish was that the tofu was merely stir fried and not braised in the oven. My dreams of using my hot pot dish were dashed. However, this recipe turned out to be the best tofu stir-fry I’ve ever made! The tofu was crispy, and the sauce was nicely thickened by the potato starch from the coating on the tofu. The sake, garlic, and ginger were in perfect balance, and the green beans and mushrooms added crunch and texture.