Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cookbook Review: The Gluten Free Asian Kitchen

Welcome to the first cookbook review of the new year!  The Gluten Free Asian Kitchen by Laura B. Russell has been on my wish list since I heard about it late last year, and I decided to make it my first cookbook review of the year. 

At first glance, the book looks good.  Although not hard cover, it is a nice manageable size and the picture on the front is eye catching. 

In fact, one of the things I like best about this book is the photography throughout.  Not every recipe has an accompanying picture, but several do, and each photograph is a work of art.

The book is easy to navigate, with a useful first section called Getting Started.  For those just starting out on a gluten free diet, and even for those who have been gluten free for a while but perhaps aren't well versed in Asian food, this section walks the reader through the most common ingredients used in the book and which ones commonly have gluten.  The chapter provides a description of main ingredients, where to find them, and gluten free alternatives.  It also provides a description of what the ingredient tastes like, helpful for understanding the key flavours in each recipe.

The book is broken into eleven chapters, with ingredients like rice and noodles each getting their own dedicated chapter.   The author does admit that the dessert chapter contains the least authentic recipes, as she provides mostly Asian-inspired desserts, but the rest of the book doesn't shy away from tackling authentic Asian recipes, even time-consuming dumplings.  There is a nice mix of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai dishes.

For this review, my husband and I prepared several recipes from the book: Yakitori Chicken Skewers with Homemade Teriyaki Sauce, Carrot and Daikon Pickle, Roasted Pork Meatballs with Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce, Korean Green Onion Pancakes, Shaking Beef, and Kung Pao Chicken. 

We kept faithful to the recipes with two exceptions- we used arugula instead of watercress in the Shaking Beef recipe, and we left out the spice in the Kung Pao Chicken recipe. 

The recipes were easy to follow, and fairly simple to prepare.  The only thing I would change is that recipes where some of the ingredients are used both in the main dish and in the sauce are not broken down into those two elements, sometimes making it too easy to accidentally add too much of one ingredient to a dish.  Other than that, the recipes are well written, in simple language and easy to understand directions. 

Most ingredients were simple to find, if a bit unfamiliar at first.  The only ingredient we couldn't find was the mirin, but we didn't check an Asian supermarket.  We bought everything at our local Fortino's or Walmart.  I personally would go to a specialty shop for an ingredient I really want, but for a cookbook to be practical for the average person, most ingredients should be readily available at their local supermarket.  In our case, they almost all were, either in the International Foods aisle or the Gluten Free/Organics aisle.  

How did they taste?  Fantastic!  The recipes were all winners, which is something that rarely occurs when trying out new recipes for the first time.  Each dish had a really fresh, authentic flavour.  Our son tried everything except the Shaking Beef, because the red onions are a bit too spicy for him.  My husband and I enjoy a little heat, but we took the heat out of the Kung Pao Chicken to make it more kid-friendly, and our little guy really liked it. 
Shaking Beef

Korean Green Onion Pancakes

The Verdict:  I would recommend this cookbook to anyone who likes Asian food, period.  Whether you are gluten free or not, the recipes in this book are delicious.  The book offers a great introduction to Asian cooking, in an easy to follow format and with great photographs.  Despite the several recipes I tried for this review, I already have a list of several more that I can't wait to try, like Braised Tofu in Mushroom Sauce and Crispy Spring Rolls.  After spending a week eating almost exclusively from one cookbook, still wanting to go back and try some more is a sure sign to me that this book is a keeper, and one that will get plenty of use in my gluten free kitchen.

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