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Gail Davis

Gail Davis

Posted February 20, 2011

Published in Food, Green, Health, Lifestyle

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Book Review: Asian Fusion~A Culinary Odyssey of Vegan Recipes by Chat Mingkwan

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I'm a huge fan of Chat Mingkwan's earlier book, Buddha's Table: Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style. Its pages are well-worn and separating from the spine, because it's been propped open with weights on my kitchen counter so often. I seemed to have completely missed the release of his second book, Vietnamese Fusion: Vegetarian Cuisine, so now I'll have to track down a copy. But how exciting it was to learn that he's now created a third book filled with recipes from countries throughout Asia!

In the preface to Asian Fusion: A Culinary Odyssey of Vegan Recipes there are translations of the phrase "thank you" in ten Asian languages, only five of which I am familiar with. After tasting many of the recipes in this book, I 'd like to learn how to say thank-you to author Chat Mingkwan in all ten!

At the beginning of the book, you will familiar yourself with all of the special ingredients used in the recipes that follow. I quickly discover how cleverly Mingkwan utilizes plant-based seasonings to recreate the flavor-enhancing characteristics of many non-vegan ingredients—like shrimp paste and fish sauce—that are typically used in Asian cooking. With exotic names like salam leaves, shiso, and lesser ginger, and recipes from Burma, Sri Lanka, and Laos (to name but a few), I was quickly expanding my culinary horizons!

Since I can honestly say that I've never eaten Filipino food, I decided to delve right into Mingkwan's recipe for Pancit Noodles (Pancit Guisado). This flavorful dish heavily emphasized the Asian influences of Filipino cuisine (which also has Spanish influences). I loved working with pancit noodles, and the sauce was quite different from anything I've eaten before. Fermented bean curd was also new to me. Although an optional ingredient in this recipe, I'm really glad I used it, as it added a layer of complexity to the finished dish.

Of all the mouthwatering photos in this book, the one that really caught my eye was the Singaporean Sweet and Sour Plate (or Peal Wan Puk). And since Mark and I are both huge fans of Thai sweet and sour dishes, I decided to see how this one might compare. Well, as you can see, it served up beautifully:

The sauce was sweeter than Thai sweet and sour, with just a hint of citrus. It far exceeded both of our expectations, with Mark commenting that this was the best sweet and sour he'd ever eaten. I loved frying up the slender slices of tofu and found that I only needed to use half the oil called for in the recipe. 
I am looking forward to making at least one recipe from each of the thirteen countries represented in Asian Fusion, especially some of the yummy-sounding desserts like Sri Lankan Spiced Coconut Custard, Chinese Braised Pears in Sweet Wine, and Indian Baked-Spiced Bread Dessert. If you enjoy Asian food and have a yen to expand your own culinary horizons, then this book is just for you! 
Following is the for recipe Singaporean Sweet and Sour Plate from Chat Mingkwan's Asian Fusian excerpted by arrangement with Book Publishing Company. Copyright © 2010.

Ingredients:

2 Tbs light soy sauce, or more to taste
2 Tbs vegetarian or mushroom stir-fry sauce
1/3 cup sweet chili sauce
3 Tbs rice vinegar
2 Tbs sugar, or more to taste
2 Tbs cornstarch
1 Tbs tomato paste (for red color; optional—but I used it!)
1 Tbs sambal oelek (Indonesian hot chile sauce) or sriracha sauce (I omitted this ingredient)
1 small orange, zest and juice
3 Tbs vegetable oil (I used 1 1/2 Tbs)
2 cups julienned tofu (3/4 - 1 lb)
3 Tbs minced garlic 
1 cup finely diced water chestnuts
1 cup finely diced onion
1 cup finely diced pineapple or apple
1 cup finely diced colorful bell peppers
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup roasted cashew nuts (optional—I used raw)
1/2 cup sliced green onions, both green and white parts, cut into 1-inch-long strips
4 springs fresh cilantro, leaves only, for garnish

Directions:

Combine the soy sauce, stir-fry sauce, sweet chile sauce, vinegar, sugar, cornstarch, optional tomato paste, optional sambal oelek, and orange zest and juice in a small bowl. Stir to mix well. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the tofu and cook for 2-3 minutes, until light brown and crispy all over. Add the glaric and cook and stir for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the water chestnuts, onion, pineapple, and bell peppers. Cook and stir for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixture from the wok and set aside.

In the same wok, stir in the soy sauce mixture. Cook and stir for 2-5 minutes, until the sauce thickens into a gravy. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add a little water if the sauce is too thick or too dry. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Stir in the reserved tofu mixture and toss to coat evenly with the gravy. Just before removing from the heat, stir in the cashew nuts and green onions. 

Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 6.


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