This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful cookbook I have ever reviewed. The floral cloth cover is a vision of cottagey charm, and the quality of the paper used inside that lovely binding sets this book apart. The artwork that recalls between-the-wars China is stunning and presents a more stylish impression than would the more often found shots of a contemporary food market in Hong Kong (live fish in small buckets and snakes in jars being the touristy norm) or a cleaver-wielding cook wearing a vest (singlet or undershirt depending on the national origin of my dear reader).
Neil Perry, the author, fell in love with Asian food at a very young age. His dad had a passion for all things Chinese and would take his son on visits to Sydney’s Chinatown to shop for ingredients and to eat. These excursions evidently made a great impression on the young Neil. Several decades later Neil has his own restaurant and he believes his love of Asian food has helped him produce better dishes, whether Asian or western.
Balance and Harmony is the name of the book, and the recipes reflect that, guiding you to taste and adjust the seasonings and spices as you cook, to achieve a dish that tantalises the palate. Neil isn’t suggesting that food needs to be complicated, but it should have depth.
The book is divided into two sections. The first part covers Basic Techniques and Recipes, and the second has Advanced Recipes and Banquet Menus. I would think that all the recipes could be tackled by an enthusiastic home cook, but the first chapters would be a good starting point for the novice or those who are unfamiliar with Asian food.
There are lots of classic dishes here and the book is no worse for that. Prawn Toast is popular with restaurant goers but it makes lovely nibbles at western drinks parties. Sweet and Sour Pork has long had a bad press. It’s often a nasty greasy mess of stodgy batter coated with a sauce so bright you could read a book by its glow. Balance and Harmony offers a homemade version that puts the Panda Paw Inn (I trust there is, in reality, no such restaurant) to shame.
Tangerine Peel Chicken is a triumph. This is a Sichuan-inspired recipe and has heat in the form of chillies as you might expect. The peel adds a hint of citrus perfume that is subtle but unmistakable. Although this recipe is found in the Advanced section it is in no way beyond even a modestly adept cook.
Balance and Harmony – Asian Food is gift-quality and a stunner. The recipes don’t disappoint and cover a wide spectrum of Chinese dishes to tempt carnivores and non-meat eaters alike. It’s a delight.
Asian cookbook review: Balance and Harmony – Asian Food
Author: Neil Perry
Published by: Murdoch Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018