Learn from the experts and their cookbooks

The cuisine of China, Japan and Peru are put centre stage in these four cookbooks.

str2_cookbooksept_abirami_2~1Land of Fish And Rice

Author: Fuchsia Dunlop

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Price: RM137.26

“Land of fish and rice” refers to the region surrounding Shanghai – also known as Jiangnan or “south of the river” Yangtze – where historically locals live mainly on rice and fish stew. Within this region are the cities Yangzhou, Hangzhou and Suzhou, known for their gastronomy, literature and scenic splendour.

From this region of lakes, ponds, rivers, fields and a long coastline are derived the famous rice wines of Shaoxing, renowned Jinhua ham of Zhejiang, and celebrated Chinkiang vinegar. “Seasonings are added not to dazzle the senses, but to frame the quiet beauty of the ingredients themselves,” author Fuchsia Dunlop writes.

The recipes are a mix of simple, rustic cooking and famous dishes from the region such as beggar’s chicken, dungpo pork, lion’s head meatball, drunken chicken, Nanjing saltwater duck, and a plethora of fish dishes – the Suzhou classic “squirrel fish”, Zhoushan fish chowder, clear-steamed fish and etc.

There are recipes for vegetarian “roast goose” and “crabmeat”, Hangzhou being the birthplace of Buddhist vegetarian mock meat cuisine. If you are up to giving your biceps a workout, there is a recipe for making your own wheat gluten; from that you can make vegetarian “intestines” and fried gluten puffs.

Dunlop’s masterful writing and gifted storytelling is a big part of the charm of all her books, making this a book as much for bedtime reading as for cooking out of. She is naughty at times, like when she suggests the Chinese and Italians take their quarrel further to include the origins of orechiette or “little ears”, small earlike pasta made from high-gluten flour, salt and water found in the north and in Hangzhou. Every recipe comes with a well-told story.

Homecooks will be delighted that for all her dishes, the ingredient lists are very short. Thoroughly researched and well-documented, this book is for all lovers of Chinese food who want to look deeply into Jiangnan food – particularly important, as it is home to China’s finest cooking, and hence the subtitle of the book: “Recipes from the culinary heart of China”. – Julie Wong

str2_cookbooksept_abirami_1~1Sushi Chef: Sukiyabashi Jiro

Author: Shinzo Satomi

Publisher: Vertical

Price: RM106.65

This little book shocked the world when it was first published in 1997 for being overly graphic and too honest in revealing all the secrets of the sushi kitchen. Considered the bible of sushi chefs – making chef Jiro Ono Japan’s living sushi god – the first edition in English is now available. The American documentary film Jiro Dreams Of Sushi came later in 2011, driving Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three Michelin-star sushi-only restaurant with only 10 seats and located in a Tokyo subway station, to cult status.

The book starts by revealing what is in Ono’s wooden tane box – which contains all the topping ingredients for making his sushi – around the seasons. These are basically vivid top view pictures of the various boxes, identifying each ingredient and its place of origin.

Interspersed between the chapters are “Jiro Sushi Talk” – his very candid, no-holds-barred comments, advice and tips discussing every aspect of an ingredient, technique or ethics. Included are maps (eg showing tuna migration around Japan) and nigiri-dane calendar.

There is a really impressive section on hon maguro illustrating how tuna is cut and how flesh from each cut looks and tastes through a series of diagrams and life-size pictures of each sushi, the fish moist and glistening like it is in front of you. This is followed by a “Complete Explora-tion” of Kinkai Hon Maguro showing cross sections of how the fish flesh evolves from month to month.

It feels like you are in Ono’s kitchen with him, every day, January to December, and he’s teaching you everything you need to know about making the best sushi in the world. That is how remarkable this little book is. It’s not a recipe book but a technical manual, a sushi textbook for engineers if you will. – JG

str2_cookbooksept_abirami_2Lima – The Cookbook

Author: Virgilio Martinez

Publisher: Mitchell Beazley

Price: RM121.50

Lima is a city where the native Peruvian culture – native tribes and the Incas – and immigrant influences – Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Arab, African – meet and where all that cultural diversity is translated into delicious food. Lima is also the name of Martinez’ restaurant in London offering experimental Peruvian cuisine. This book celebrates both Lima and London.

While it is a book of Peruvian home cooking, it is not about traditional cuisine but traditional flavours and heritage revisited from a modern standpoint. The Peruvian table of today starts with lots of chips and dips, sexy drinks like quinoa punch and roasted orange smoothie, and a rash of cocktails.

At the heart of this book is something called tiger’s milk, the liquid resulting from the preparation of ceviche which has a strong spicy, citrus flavour. Making tiger’s milk base is the most important step to be mastered in the making of the perfect ceviche. Both tiger’s milk base and tiger’s milk form the base for many other very interesting recipes like clams with rocoto tiger’s milk and aloe vera tiger’s milk.

The good news is that the ingredients needed for tiger's milk are easily available. The bad news is that the book has many recipes that uses chilli peppers that are not easily available, like aji limo and aji panca, also native herbs like huacatay leaves (but substitutes are given) and chincho leaves.

The chapter on “Ceviches, Tiraditos and Causas” illustrates the inventiveness of new Peruvian cuisine with recipes like baby corn ceviche and red snapper, chia and yellow aji tiradito – tiradito being a kind of stretched ceviche – and causa, a kind of crustless pie.

I think it is not impossible to cook from this book; you just need to be determined, and that effort will be greatly rewarded. – JG

str2_cookbooksept_abirami_1New Japanese Kitchen

Author: Kyoko Rabbetts

Publisher: MPH Publishing

Price: RM39.90

The mysteries of Japanese food can often seem too complex to comprehend. There are ramen and sushi masters, people who dedicate their lives to the art of cooking. All of this can make cooking Japanese food seem daunting for regular home cooks. Kyoko Rabbetts’ book aims to dispel this notion by simplifying and modernising traditional Japanese staples and infusing other culinary influences into her recipes

Rabbetts has spent a great deal of her life outside Japan and this is obvious in the book’s treatment, as many of her Japanese-tinged recipes borrow from global favourites – like her Mentaiko Eggs Benedict and Japanese Style Fish & Chips, for example. For beginners in Japanese cuisine (and people with poor eyesight), the book will be extremely useful as there are plenty of helpful tips and tricks for newbies and large pictures of recipes and ingredients, including an essential ingredient database for everything from kombu to mirin.

The recipes for Sushi Rice, Orange Chirashizushi and Temari-zushi seem to be some of the most authentic in the book, while other recipes have clearly been designed for people who want to incorporate Japanese elements into their dishes without going the whole hog.

Some of the recipes are very simplistic and take a lot of shortcuts, like the Japanese Curry Cobbler, which makes use of store-bought Japanese curry mix instead of including a recipe for making the curry.

Still, this is probably in keeping with modern times, as busy home cooks may not have the time to cook everything from scratch. While this book isn’t going to be your ultimate guide to Japanese cuisine, if you’re looking for a pain-free introduction to very basic Japanese culinary skills and recipes that incorporate Japanese gastronomy with some modern touches, this might be just what you’re looking for. – Abirami Durai

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