Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Best Chinese Cookbook(s) Ever

On the last eve of Chinese New Year 2008, I'm recommending the two best Chinese cookbooks I have found.
A Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, Gloria Bley Miller, 1966, 1994

The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing, Grace Young, 1999
A few years ago, my husband set out to learn how to cook authentic Chinese food. Why? I'm not sure. I think he would say that he always wanted to learn to cook from the fresh ingredients from Chinatown. I am happy to reap the benefits.

My Chinese sister-in-law told me that, ideally, authentic Chinese food should appeal to all five senses. Admirable, sure, but not exactly the kind of challenge any everyday cook needs. Nonetheless, we have found that homemade Chinese food can really work for weeknight dinners. (Sure Chinese take-out is easy too, but that's another story.) Chinese food requires a lot of prep and then, often, very fast cooking. So if you can master a few recipes and have a little advanced planning, dinner can be ready fast. Generally, I help out with the prep (washing and chopping vegetables, defrosting stock), so that my husband can step in and fire up the wok when he gets home from work.

The first cookbook he used was Gloria Bley Miller's A Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. This is a "teaching the basics" cookbook that literally has more recipes than you know what to do with. It is invaluable for teaching basic Chinese cooking techniques and basic recipes. I also find it handy for trying new vegetable/meat combinations, because there are so many recipes to choose from. Miller will sometimes substitute American ingredients for Chinese ones. It was written originally in 1966, so there were no other options!

His latest favorite is The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen cookbook, which is more advanced. This book is a joy to read and to cook from. Grace Young tells stories of learning Chinese cooking techniques from her parents and grandparents, and she gives background details to Chinese cooking philosophy and holidays, like the New Year. She keeps it real and insists that you find the authentic ingredients. Still, she gives tips for navigating Chinese groceries stores and for finding the freshest fish and produce. The results are worth it.

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