I first came across Charmaine Solomon in the 1970’s. My first recipe book was Charmaine’s Chinese Cookbook and I am still using it today (well, actually, last Saturday night). It’s a treat to have The Complete Asian Cookbook, which is a mammoth one-stop Asian recipe book that covers those countries that constitute what we in the West consider Asia. Not the geographic Asia which would include parts of Turkey and Iran etc, but the Asia from China to Indonesia, from Pakistan to Japan.
Ken Hom has written the foreword and he says “I trust that this major culinary work will be a companion to your cookery books as well as being used as a standard reference…” One glance will tell you that this volume is noteworthy. It’s a mine of information on food history, culture and practice for all the main Asian cuisines.
Although this is a formidable volume it’s a cookbook that is meant to be used. It’s ideal for those who have already discovered a passion for cooking Asian food but also for those who would like to. Charmaine doesn’t assume you know anything about the subject. She guides you gently through the basic techniques and even gives you a convenient shopping list for those store cupboard ingredients for each of the cuisines.
The chapters are divided by country and the lesser-known culinary nations are also given space. There are few books that focus on Sri Lankan dishes and probably still fewer that present the food of Burma. Each section has a wealth of classic dishes as well as family-style recipes, and the sheer volume is almost overwhelming!
Your guests will be impressed
I do have favourite recipes. Crisp Fried Pork with Sweet and Sour Sauce is a Chinese restaurant staple but it’s often heavy and greasy. This recipe is lighter and fresher-tasting than the take-away favourite. This recipe also works well with chicken and prawns and I often use the sauce over rice with vegetables.
Some Asian recipe books are a bit light on sweets. India has some of the finest as the sweetshops even in the UK will attest. Some of these delights are easily made at home and your guests will be impressed by an authentic Asian dessert rather than a scoop of trifle. Kulfi is a delicious Indian ice cream and the home-made version is far superior to the commercial offerings of the larger supermarkets. Mysore Pak, like a shortbread, has crumbly texture and has a delicate hint of cardamom and almond. Just right with a cup of afternoon tea. Barfi is probably the most common of Indian sweets and comes in many colours and flavours but The Complete Asian Cookbook has probably the most popular – Barfi Pista made with Pistachio nuts. Irresistible.
The Complete Asian Cookbook doesn’t have a picture for every recipe (there are 70 recipes just starting with the letter A!) but there are sufficient to give the impression of a sumptuous book that you will want to use. Yes, its size is impressive but the content is what will attract the reader. It’s a book of reference, charm and practicality. Amazing value for money!
The Complete Asian Cookbook
Author: Charmaine Solomon
Published by: Grub Street
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018