South East Asian cookbooks
Find culinary inspiration in recipes from Thailand, Indonesia, Burma and beyond
Bill's Everyday Asian
Bill Granger, Quadrille, £20
Granger & Co, the first London restaurant by Australian chef Bill Granger, may have been a slight disappointment when it opened at the end of 2011 – but at least his cookery books are as dependable as ever.
‘Everyday Asian’ is Granger's ninth original book and, with eye-poppingly vibrant photographs (that evoke ‘Asia’ without relying on cliched iconography) by Mikkel Vang, possibly his most beautiful.
Granger’s style of cooking encapsulates that archetypally Aussie attitude: fresh and easy-breezy (in this book, there’s even a tongue-in-cheek reference to the ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ line). He applies this liberal approach to cooking – simple ingredients and minimal fuss – to tackle the perceived complexity of ‘Asian’ food, and for the most part, it works.
Setting aside the usual quibbles about how the diverse cuisines of an entire swath of the globe can be reduced into a single volume, Granger’s book offers plenty of quick and inspiring recipes that incorporate key flavours, aromas and textures without forcing readers to hunt down dozens of obscure ingredients.
The list of recommended Asian pantry ingredients tops 30 items, but considering the breadth of recipes it’s a tight and concise selection. It might be Asian food-lite, but the results are no less satisfying.
Rather than by cuisine type, each chapter is based on either dishes (salads, soups, noodles and rice) or proteins (poultry, pork seafood, beef and lamb, vegetables and tofu), making it easy to look for a recipe revolving around your ingredient(s) of choice. We liked the Korean-style barbecued beef recipe with miso ’slaw; the use of puréed kiwi fruit in the marinade might not be traditional, but it worked totenderise the meat as promised, and the fragrant sesame-sugar-soy-garlic combination caramelised nicely on the grill. A simple mixture of white miso paste, rice vinegar, lemon juice and sugar made a fantastic dressing for the crunchy cabbage, celery and red onion 'slaw.
Desserts have more of a Granger spin, focusing more on tropical fruit concoctions (mandarin crème brûlée, passionfruit granita) than typical Asian desserts. With that said, hot Chinese custard tarts (similar to Portuguese pasteis de nata) tasted correct, but the method was too vague to ensure a smooth, creamy texture – in our experience, a longer cooking time at a lower temperature prevents the custard mixture from puffing up like a soufflé, which ours did from 18 minutes of 200C heat.
This book isn’t for those who are looking for ‘authentic’ recipes, though there are many that stay truthful to the original dish with just a few minor simplifications or substitutions (Vietnamese ‘shaking’ beef, Thai pork larb salad, tom yum soup, Chinese salt and pepper tofu). As the title suggests, these are recipes for the everyday – and they work.
Charmaine Mok, Time Out London Issue 2160: January 12-18 2012