500 Asian Dishes by Ghillie Basan – review

I am an unashamed supporter of these chunky volumes from Apple Press. This time it’s the talented and prolific Ghillie Basan who has penned 500 Asian Dishes which encompasses much of the culinary wealth of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines.

asian cookbook review 500 asian dishes The chapters here are divided by type of dish rather than country. They start with sauces and dips and progress through meats and fish to desserts and drinks. Marvellous recipes with several alternatives for each. An ingenious way of presenting 500 recipes in a single book that’s smaller than a Honda. There is a culinary overview of each country to set the scene as well as a glossary of less familiar ingredients.

The Sauces and Dips chapter presents the easiest recipes, although it’s the nature of food in this region to be simple and quick to prepare. Vietnamese Dipping Sauce is a condiment that you’ll use often. It has the tapestry of flavours that is typical of Asian foods: pungency from garlic, heat from chillies, sweetness from palm sugar, sharpness from lime juice and saltiness from the distinctive fish sauce. The author offers six alternatives including one with the addition of fresh ginger.

Singapore Laksa is a celebrated dish of vegetables, chicken and seafood. The broth is the key to the success here as with any soup. The ingredient list is long but the method of preparation should hold no terrors for even a novice cook. It can be a main meal or a starter. Ghillie has a vegetarian version as well, although I prefer the more interesting original.

If you want a traditional recipe with few ingredients then the ever-popular Salt and Pepper Squid is worth trying. Yes, it truly is as simple as it sounds. Use freshly ground black pepper for full effect. Once again you have the choice of five similar recipes including one which replaces the squid with prawns.

Korean cuisine is little known in the UK and other European countries. The USA has long had Korean restaurants but they are only just becoming popular here. The recipe for Korean Stir-fried Potatoes shows the style of Korean food. It’s spicy with a salty note from soy sauce. A gentle introduction to the food of this exotic but mostly overlooked peninsula.

I often bemoan the lack of Asian desserts but this book offers some delicious and traditional delights. Indonesian Sweet Black Sticky Rice is flavoured with coconut milk. If you can’t get pandanus leaves (a common Malaysian ingredient) then look for the extract, available from Asian supermarkets. Malaysian Sago Pudding with Palm Sugar is a favourite. Don’t substitute regular sugar for the palm sugar as it is that which gives the dessert its distinctive toffee flavour. This is a world away from the sago that was inflicted on many of us at school dinners.

500 Asian Dishes has traditional recipes that are accessible to the European home cook. Many of them are little-known in Europe but all of them are worth tasting. Nothing too taxing for those unfamiliar with Asian food but plenty of recipes to hold the interest of the aficionado.

500 Asian Dishes
Author: Ghillie Basan
Published by: Apple Press
Price: £9.99
ISBN 978-1-84543-369-7


Asian cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018