If you like to dabble a bit in Asian cooking I’ve got a read for you. Lucky Rice is an extremely approachable new cookbook from Danielle Chang. It’s a book designed to give cooks of any skill set and all backgrounds an authentic introduction to many of Asia’s favorite flavors. The emphasis in this book is on contemporary Asian recipes from a wide range of countries, cultures and traditions. It doesn’t go into great geeky depth. True wonks might be better served choosing a cookbook dedicated to one country or one style of cooking. But if you enjoy Asian influences and a broad array of cooking styles this is a great launchpad.
The author is the founder of LuckyRice, a series of festivals and culinary events that celebrate all things Asian. The project (as well as the cookbook of the same name) goes well beyond an appreciation for Asian food however. The real goal is to bring a familiarity with Asian culture to mainstream American cities. The events originated in Brooklyn, NY and have since expanded to other cities: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston, Miami, Chicago, Toronto, and San Francisco. With the release of the cookbook Lucky Rice: Stories and Recipes from Night Markets, Feasts, and Family Tables that vision is now brought to an even wider audience.
Expect to find homemade versions of familiar takeout treats: Dandan Noodles, Broccoli Beef, and Laab (Issan-Style Pork). There are also creative takes on your favorite Asian bites such as DIY Sushi Hand Rolls and an eclectic array of Satay that includes squid. While it’s true many of the recipes in this book contain ingredients that may not be completely familiar to all readers – please don’t let that put you off. As I said a big part of this book’s mission is to introduce us all to Asian culture. Learning about these new ingredients and techniques is a fundamental aspect of enjoying this cookbook.
I’ve dabbled quite a bit in Asian flavors but soon found myself most interested in new territory – the large selection of soups and stews featured in this book. There’s a Korean Seaweed Soup, a traditional Hot Pot, and of course Sweet and Sour Soup, But these are just 3 of the 18 soup or stew recipes featured. Some are classic preparations like Seafood Soondubu with Kimchi while others such as the Sumo Wrestlers’ Stew show a little more, shall we say, cheek.
Lucky Rice Spicy Fish Stew (Shui Zhu Yu)
I’ve decided to make Chang’s Spicy Fish Stew known in parts of China as Shui Zhu Yu (water-boiled fish). It’s authentically spicy and features Sichuan peppercorns; a formerly illegal in the United States spice that sometimes gets classified as a drug. If you’ve ever tasted this peppercorn you’ll immediately notice the feral perfume it imparts to the broth of this fish stew. It also brings a very specific taste sensation that seems to make the mouth buzz with electricity. Devotees swear it’s both addictive and medicinal. Sichuan peppercorns (also spelled Szechuan) are different than the “hot” you may associate with pepper and/or chili. Sichuan peppercorns literally numb the mouth. Which may sound strange, but they’re as integral to Sichuan cuisine as salt and pepper is to Western cooking. Look at that! You’ve just learned something delicious about Asian culture. GREG