If you are looking for ways to expand the culinary possibilities in your own Brave New Gluten Free World, then Laura B. Russell's cookbook, The Gluten Free Asian Kitchen (Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 2011) is tailor made for you. Though many Asian food traditions are gluten-free, try going out to your favorite noodle or dim sum place or try navigating a typical Chinese (well, Chinese-American, really) restaurant and figuring out whether there's wheat in the soy sauce that's in nearly every dish or whether the noodles are wheat-based or rice-based, or a combination. It's enough to give you a gluten headache without even eating anything.
That's where Russell's new cookbook is so useful. Our family loves all kinds of Asian foods and we've really loved trying out new ingredients and cooking techniques since La Vida Gluten Free rained down on us five or so years ago. The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen has helpful descriptions of all kinds of Asian ingredients, including shopping tips to help you avoid varieties of noodles, sauces, marinades and spices that may contain gluten. A special chapter at the end of the book by Marcus Pakiser is devoted to the delights of drinking sake, fermented rice wine that comes in many varieties and pairs well with many of the dishes outlined in this book. Dan and I bought our first bottle of sake and have enjoyed sipping and cooking with this delicate tasting beverage.
The recipe section is very well-written and the author patiently and thoroughly explains various techniques for which novice Asian cooks may need extra hand holding. (that would be me!). So far I've made four wonderful recipes from this inspirational cookbook and I can tell that it will be a real workhorse in our cookbook library. There are many popular Asian foods that one can cook (Pot Stickers, Mu Shu Pork, Bibimbap) but also many unusual and innovative recipes (Stir-Fried Rice Cakes with Shrimp and Vegetables, Crabby Noodles with Snow Peas, Thai Coffee Macarons).
I have happily bespattered this great cookbook already, and the first dish I tackled was a simple and homey one, Braised Tofu in Mushroom Sauce (p. 126). The cookbook photo by Leo Gong is so much more delicious-looking than mine, but I can tell you that this was a fantastic recipe that I know I'll be making often, especially since I have lots of bags of garden green beans in the freezer. I used dried shiitake mushrooms (bought cheap at the Asian market) instead of the fresh ones called for in the recipe. That gave me the bonus of free mushroom broth from my soaking liquid for the luscious sauce, so that earned extra Crispy (and Frugal) Cook points.
By using the nonstick pan called for in Russell's recipe, I was finally able to keep my tofu cubes intact after cooking, and for that tip alone, I think this cookbook is a great investment. Russell calls for seasoning the tofu cubes with salt and pepper first and then dipping in potato starch, and this was some of the tastiest tofu I've had outside of a restaurant. You can check out this great recipe yourself at this link. (You can also find many more of Laura B. Russell's recipes on her website.)
I next whipped up a batch of Lemongrass Shrimp Skewers (p. 44) using lemongrass from my own garden patch (it lasted until October out there!). That was a heavenly and elegant dish. It's a little tricky working with the pulverized raw shrimp and shaping them around your skewer, but the aroma of these patties wafting off the barbeque grill was intoxicating. We served them over wonderfully-scented basmati rice and that was a killer meal.
After perusing all the tempting recipes made from many species of gluten-free noodles, I cooked up a batch of slightly lavender-colored Sweet Potato Noodles with(out Beef and) Vegetables (p. 91). They are pretty slippery characters, those Sweet Potato Noodles, so I appreciated Russell's tip about snipping them up with kitchen shears into manageable lengths to avoid wearing one's dinner.
Finally, I made a pile of Eggplant with Sweet Miso Glaze (p. 123), another dish with layers of flavor. I really loved this one, with its blend of smokiness, sweetness and creaminess. If I had fresh-picked eggplants, I would dispense with the step of soaking the eggplant slices in salted water, but mine were a week old at least and starting to get soft, so I'm sure this short brining removed a bit of bitterness.
I am really going to have fun trying all of Russell's pickled vegetable recipes next garden season and look forward to creating my own batches of pickled ginger and green curry paste. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about Asian food traditions and cooking techniques. Using this cookbook as a guide to exploring various Asian foods, you can create restaurant-quality meals for your family and friends and noone will ask "is this gluten-free?", because they'll be too busy noshing away.
Celestial Arts has graciously offered to send a free copy of The Gluten-Free Asian Cookbook to one of you. All you need to do is leave a comment below telling me what Asian recipe you'd love to learn how to make yourself by Wednesday, November 23, 2011 (midnight Eastern Standard Time), and I'll randomly pick a winner. This giveaway offer is limited to readers living in the United States.
Note: I received a free copy of this cookbook from the publisher, but as always, I was not obligated to review it on the Crispy Cook. I was also given the opportunity to offer a copy as a giveaway to one of my readers.