Pan-Asian Comfort Food With a Twist

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The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens

By Patricia Tanumihardja (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2009, 368 pp., $35.00, hardcover)

A multitude of cookbooks reference mothers. A fair amount offer nods to grandmas of all ethnic backgrounds. And there is no shortage of pan-Asian cookbooks to choose from at the local bookstore. But Patricia Tanumihardja’s “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” brings them all together and with the twist of an Asian American focus to boot.

This beautifully designed cookbook begins with an introduction to the Asian American pantry and its diverse ingredients followed by seven chapters covering appetizers, soups, side dishes, main courses, quick meals, party foods and, finally, desserts and drinks. Recipes run the gamut of Asian nations, from China, Korean and Japan down through Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines. There are 130 recipes in all.

For her research Tanumijarda interviewed and cooked with Asian American “grandmothers, mothers and aunties,” many of who contributed their recipes. The 10 profiles of Asian American grandmothers have to be the highlight of the book. Women such as Kimiye Hayashi of Bellevue, Wash. — who grew up in a fishing village on Terminal Island, Calif., and was incarcerated at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas — share their personal histories and favorite recipes. The author stays true to the “home cooking” genre by putting the spotlight on home cooks: none of the women profiled are professional chefs. (Though one woman, Niloufer Gupta, did take classes at the London branch of Le Cordon Bleu.)

Recipes in the “Comfort Food and One-Wok Meals” section — Oyako Donburi (Japanese Chicken and Egg over Rice), Kimbap (Korean Seaweed-Wrapped Rice and Vegetable Rolls) and Rad Nah (Thai Wide Rice Noodles Smothered in Rich Gravy) — are a bit elementary.

Still, you can learn to make foods from across East, Southeast and South Asia. And anyone — whether they have experience in an Asian or Asian American kitchens or not — can find joy in finding recipes for such dishes as Niu Rou Yuan (Chinese Steamed Meatballs with Tangerine Peel) Whethar Sebyan (Burmese Pork Curry) and Pla Neung Morh Din (Thai Claypot Lemongrass-Steamed Fish). There are also a few fusion dishes, such as Brandied Chicken and Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce and a Cardamom-Studded Flan, to test out. And if you’ve never had Nasi Kuning (Indonesian Yellow Coconut Rice), a recipe included in “Feeding a Crowd: Parties, Potlucks and Festivals” chapter, do give it a try.

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