If the world is shrinking as technology brings us closer, then Jennifer Joyce’s cookbook is a prime example of the way of the future. While the title may suggest traditional Asian food, it is, in fact, inspired by it, offering a range of foods that is as eclectic as Asia itself.
There are almost 50 Asian countries and many more Asian cultures within that. The source material for Joyce’s cookbook is boundless and she makes use of that to provide recipes that sometimes blend these cultures, including those from countries like Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and South East Asia generally.
Many of the recipes provide a suggestion for alternative ingredients or ways to vary the recipe, and each is introduced with a brief but interesting word or two about the dish. The trivia Joyce sometimes includes in her introductions are ideal to throw casually into conversation as you’re dishing it out, for example: “Cha Ca fish is so popular in Hanoi they have an entire street dedicated to it! The restaurants have only one thing on their menu…” (Vietnamese Prawns (Cha Ca) with Dill and Rice Noodles, page 190).
To reiterate the very basics of following a recipe, it’s vital to read the whole thing through long before attempting to cook it, particularly in Joyce’s case. Her style is easy to follow and well laid out on the page with large colourful photos, but her instructions are not always in chronological order. This can be seen in the Soy, Lemon and Togarashi Chicken Wings recipe on page 26, where the first instruction advises to preheat the oven, but the recipe then continues on to creating the marinate sauce and allowing the meat to marinate for a minimum of 2 hours.
Colour contrast is also surprisingly poor in parts of the book, as forewarned by the back cover which uses red text on a pink background. Joyce’s introduction is black text on dark orange pages, while other, individually highlighted pages also use dark colours behind the black text. This is an advanced cookbook, so the small print and poor colour contrast is a disappointing design choice given that, I assume, most advanced home cooks will have been around for a few years.
The pages highlighting a specific topic contain excellent tips however. BBQ Like A Pro on page 143 talks through charcoal vs gas barbeques, what to consider when buying a good barbeque, and the difference between direct and indirect heat. Great stuff! There are other, similar pages on ramen, wantons, baos and more.
The book also offers a useful glossary for those ingredients you may not be fully familiar with. It was easy to find Asian-specific ingredients at an Asian supermarket. Just ask at the counter. The variety of foods presented in My Asian Kitchen is great and the food is delicious, as expected. The hard cover and thick paper make the book durable while, at more than 250 pages, it will also stand out on your bookshelf.
Soy, Lemon and Togarashi Chicken Wings (page 26)
The side panel of this recipe advises that the meat will need to be marinated for two hours, even though it’s the third instruction under the Method. The Chicken Wings recipe is very straight forward and easy to make, requiring nothing more than marinating then roasting the chicken.
The togarashi spice mix (not to be confused with straight togarashi, which is also available in shops) gives the chicken a bit of a kick. It’s not too hot but if you prefer to avoid too much bite, perhaps skip the final sprinkle of the spice mix on top of the cooked chicken. Page 247 in the Glossary will also give you a homemade alternative to use, so you can add the correct amount of chilli in your own mix to suit your tastes.
The dish is inspired by Japan’s smoke-filled izakaya (pubs) and, as suggested, would make a great finger food served with beer. I didn’t break up my chicken wings and opted to serve them as part of a satisfying main meal instead. It’s a very nice flavour and the simplicity of the recipe makes it a great weeknight dish. Just set the marinate going in the morning before work, then chuck it in the oven when you get home.
Nasi Goreng (page 266)
From Japan to Indonesia, there’s nothing so comforting as fried rice to keep our western tastes happy while exploring Asian dishes. Joyce’s introduction says this is “an addictive rice stir-fry” and she is correct. It’s very filling and I would happily eat this alone as a main dish.
The pineapple gives it some sweetness, while the vegetables give it some necessary vitamins. I swapped the red chilli for a red capsicum and was glad I did so. I would probably also increase the amount of soy sauce to give the dish a bit more of a salty tang. Once your vegetables are chopped and your other ingredients prepped, it only takes about ten or fifteen minutes to whip up this fried rice on the stovetop. Serve it with a cucumber slice and a lime wedge, and you’ll be everyone’s best friend.
Lime Cheesecake with Strawberries (page 236)
Now, when it comes to the kitchen, I love to cook but I’m no genius. In fact, on the Spectrum of Smarts, I’m probably sitting comfortably in the lower half. Proof in point: I forgot to add the gelatine to my cheesecake mix. If there is a God however, he was watching over me. I used Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese blocks for the recipe, which has a fairly solid consistency, so my cheesecake retained it’s shape and didn’t need the gelatine after all. Phew!
Joyce herself admits that a cheesecake is not a traditional Asian dessert but rightly says “this sharp lime cheesecake is perfect after lots of chillies, soy and ginger”. I think of it as the Australasian contribution to the book. Who doesn’t love a cheesecake Down Under?
Joyce’s recipe is sensational. It’s not overly sweet and it has a deliciously creamy after-taste that lingers on your tastebuds. The lime is an inspired balance for the cheese and strawberry flavours. You add it to the cake mix and also sprinkle the finished product with lime zest.
You’ll need half a day to make this cheesecake but the recipe is easy and the result is worth it. The time is taken up primarily by the four hours it needs to set in the fridge. Only then can you make and add the sauce and toppings.
If you would like to sample My Asian Kitchen, check out our extract which features three complementary recipes for you to try.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 7
Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: August 2018
RRP: $39.99 hardcover