I have subscribed to Lucky Peach, David Chang‘s cooking magazine, since the very first issue. I remember how excited I was when that first issue came, with its cover photo of a plucked chicken being lowered into a stockpot. I felt very, very cool. Like I was a tangential part of a crazy punk-rock cooking scene. Lucky Peach remains different from any other food magazine, with a higher text-to-picture ratio, comic-style illustrations, and a love of diving headfirst into intricate food issues and complicated or difficult recipes, like handmade ramen noodles.
Even in the months when I don’t get around to reading my Lucky Peach magazine, I’m still excited when it comes. Though more than a little of the punk-rock factor wore off when I started seeing the magazine in Whole Foods, and I’ve noticed that the covers have been toned down since the early days (the first three covers featured the aforementioned plucked chicken, a dead fish, and a pig hindquarter – trotter and all).
So I was delighted to see that there was going to be a Lucky Peach cookbook – and a little surprised that it was going to feature “easy” recipes. The magazine does not embrace easy. I love to read it, but rarely cook out of it. Indeed, I was right to be suspicious: The introduction explains that the idea for the book originated years ago with the scheme to write a book called 101 Easy Asian Dishes “wherein none of the dishes would actually be easy – we’d promise one thing and sell another.” However, after years of publishing a magazine full of whatever wild things they felt like, “publishing insanely complicated recipes was part of our 9-to-5 gig.” So they decided to go against type and make a cookbook with recipes that were actually easy.
Indeed, most of the recipes in 101 Easy Asian Recipes look simple to prepare. I made two of them last night, Dashimaki Tamago and Carrot-Ginger Dressing, for a Japanese-inspired main-dish salad. Dashimaki Tamago is the kind of egg (“tamago” in Japanese) you see on sushi. The egg is diluted about 1-to-1 with Japanese broth (the “dashi” in the name of the dish) and then cooked in thin sheets rolled up on each other. The book assured me it was easy. I don’t know if my layers were too thin, if I didn’t let them cook long enough, or what, but I found the rolling step challenging. However, the dish didn’t take long, and when it was finished it didn’t look too bad. Cooled and sliced, it actually looked pretty great in the salad.
The Carrot-Ginger Dressing is a pretty close relative of the Creamy Japanese Carrot-Ginger Dressing I posted a while ago; the flavor elements (carrot, ginger, rice vinegar, sesame, a little sugar) are mostly the same, though the Lucky Peach recipe adds a little onion and soy sauce as well. The big difference is that where I used mayonnaise as a base, Lucky Peach used oil to make a vinaigrette. I think my version is easier to make – throwing the carrot and ginger into a blender while it was running was kind of messy, even using the hole in the jar lid, and I had to scrape it down a couple of times. Their dressing is tangier and more refined; mine is creamier and more homestyle. I’d happily recommend either.
There are many dishes in here I already have recipes for – which doesn’t surprise me, as I have a zillion Asian cookbooks (actually, I just counted, and the real tally is thirty-seven). Nonetheless, there are a lot of recipes in this book I’m anxious to try. I’m especially taken with the Breakfast chapter, especially the rice-focused breakfasts from Vietnam (Com Tam, with Vietnamese sausage, herbs, and fried egg over steamed broken rice) and Malaysia (Nasi Lemak, a dish of coconut rice with a sweet-spicy anchovy saute, hard-boiled egg, cucumber, and peanuts).
Other enticing recipes include three styles of roast chicken, and a similar selection of Asian “ragus” to serve over noodles; a spicy celery stir-fry served cold; “Jumuk Bap” (Korean beef-and-rice balls); a beautiful-looking hot-and-sour soup for hot-and-sour soup deniers; a Vietnamese squid-and-grapefruit salad; and a Malaysian noodle dish so simple the cookbook dubs it “Economy noodles” because “there’s almost nothing in them and it takes almost nothing to putting [sic] them together, but they’re delicious enough to be a streetside staple in Malaysia.” Those noodles – tarted up with some cabbage and mushrooms – will be dinner tonight!