I am growing a nice collection of cookbooks and aside from a few specialist gluten free cookbooks that I purchased when I was first diagnosed celiac I tend to choose my books by their covers, or to be more accurate for their design. I prefer a beautifully put together, lovingly photographed book to a more straight- forward collection of recipes, no matter how good the recipes may be.
Good cookbooks set a scene and tell a story. They are as much about experiencing the pleasure of food, cooking and eating as they are about the recipes. Alastair Hendy’s Asia: Food & Travels is one of the most inviting and enthralling storytelling cookbooks that I have ever had the pleasure to sit down and read. If National Geographic published cookbooks this is what they would look like. This book follows Hendy’s travels in Asia and recreates recipes he encountered along the way. The photographs are amazing and the recipes that I have tried have also been amazing.
I found this book one Saturday after a lovely, but ultimately unsatisfying lunch (€40 later I was still hungry) in a Japanese restaurant. Because I am celiac I can be somewhat limited in what I can eat in Asian restaurants mainly due to the inclusion of soy sauce. Thai food is usually gluten free, sashimi is fine, sushi can be ok depending on the rice but anything like a bento box or a great steaming bowl of ramen is definitely a no go for me. Determined to learn to cook / adapt for gluten free at least a few recipes from this part of the world I headed to Chapters book shop. Chapters can be great for finding good discount priced books. Browsing the shelves I came across this beauty reduced down to €5 and initially just started flicking through it because the photographs are so lovely. A few minutes later and I was at the till, book in hand and then straight across to the Asian store on Moore Street for ingredients.
Another thing that raises cookbooks above the norm for me is when they inspire other people in my life to cook for me and this is one of those books. One happy day I stood in my kitchen, camera in one hand glass of wine in the other while my partner Dave cooked up the Keralan Mussels with Ginger & Chilli.
This simple recipe: 1 kg net of Mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded, 2 shallots, 2 cloves of garlic, 3 mild chilli’s, all finely chopped, a grated 4 cm piece of ginger, 1 tsp of paprika, some coriander and a splash of coconut milk to finish was absolutely gorgeous. The aroma of the cooking was unbelievable and the combination of flavours was beautiful. We served this in bowls filled with rice noodles so none of the sauce or any errant mussels that escaped their shells went to waste.
This book collects food memories and recipes from India to Japan and places in between and I look forward to working my way through the book from country to country. Already the Floating Market Noodles with their garnish of prawns caramelised in fish sauce and sugar and the Hill Station Curry with New Potatoes have become regular dinners in our house.
If you are looking for a really beautiful gift for a friend who loves food or a pressie for yourself I would heartily recommend this book.