Chinese food is one of the cultural cuisines that I feel I miss out on the most as someone with many severe allergies. Having grown up in Markham, Ontario, and now living a few blocks away from Chinatown... it's like I've always been so close to such a vibrant Chinese food scene and I've never participated. Enough is enough! When this beautiful book landed on my desk (courtesy of Canadian Manda Group) it stood out among all the other cookbooks for its subject matter and its beauty. The pages have gold foiled edges so you know it's seriously special.
Written by husband and wife team Kei Lum Chan, and Diora Fong Chan, this book is a compilation of 800 recipes they've collected from their travels through China, and is part of a series of beautiful cultural cookbooks from Phaidon (I also own Spain and France from the series).
I had the opportunity to chat with Kei Lum about how the book came to be. He told me that they have collected over 1200 recipes (!) and took about 14 months to write China. They carefully chose recipes from their assortment to represent each region of the country and then had to weed out the ones that might not translate well for home cooks, for example, bear paw and rare mushrooms. I dunno about you but I personally have tons of bear paw and exotic mushrooms in my fridge so I would have totally owned those recipes.
Neither Kei Lum or Diora are chefs but they are major foodies who've travelled extensively through China, own hundreds of cookbooks, and are fully immersed in the cuisine and culture having also come from foodie families. Regarding the philosophy behind Chinese cooking he explained that prep is very important as every dish requires many small steps, and the actual cooking doesn't take long. Getting your mise en place together is the key to getting acquainted with Chinese cooking.
Jessey, our friend who works in sales at Manda, joined us to cook Beef in Chili Broth (pg 400). Does she look familiar? You might remember her review of The Forest Feast Gatherings cookbook.
This recipe only required a few alterations to make it free from dairy, egg, nuts, peanuts, soy, wheat (if you use cornstarch like the recipe called for and not flour like I did), and fish/shellfish. We eliminated the miso and used string beans instead of bean sprouts because I'm allergic to some specific beans and not others. Aside from that there were no changes neededJessey began by cooking up a pot of white rice so it could simmer while we worked on the broth. Tip: Layer a paper towel under the lid to prevent the water from boiling over. It also soaks up excess moisture leaving your rice nice and light.
While the rice was cooking Jessey prepared the beef and got all the veggies ready; sliced, diced, and ready to go. The beef tenderloin was sliced into thin pieces and then pounded between plastic wrap, coated in flour (because I forgot to buy corn starch), and set aside.
The next step was to blanch the bean sprouts, or sliced green beans in our case, and then the leaks and chives. This made a light green broth that smelled fresh and onion-ey.
Next, Jessey fried the beef in vegetable oil until it was halfway cooked and crispy on the outside. Admittedly we had to read the recipe over a few times at this point because it got a little confusing and we weren't sure about the specifics; what size bowl to use, what kind of pan to use in place of a wok, etc. Also, you should really wear a tea towel or apron to avoid getting covered in splatters.
Finally, we added sliced garlic, chili peppers, and ginger to the pan and gave it a quick fry. The beef was then added back to the pan along with the broth and veggies, and given a quick stir to combine all the flavors. We spooned out hot rice into bowls and then poured the soup over top, garnishing with fresh cilantro (but not for Jessey because she hates cilantro).
We added extra chili peppers to give it some more heat and some soy sauce as well, since I'm only allergic to soy protein (as I said, my legume allergy is complicated AF). The soup is very rich and almost creamy, with a nice crunch from the green beans (or sprouts) and freshness from the cilantro. This meal was comforting and warm, and I will definitely be recreating it again on a cold day, of which there will be many since we live in Canada and it's December.
What we loved about the book
The packaging is beautiful and fine quality, with paper over board cover, embossing, and spot foiling, with gold foil on the edges. It would make a fantastic gift but personally I think it's the type of book that I'll keep on my shelf as a reference guide for Chinese cooking. While the recipes are very classic, the photography is modern and minimalist, with lots of flat lays, matte finish pages, and plenty of scenic travel photos.
You can pick up your copy here.