Grilled veggies and more, cookbooks work with what’s local
Three cookbooks stand out from this summer’s crop, all for different reasons.
Every so often a cookbook comes out that’s full of recipes by Vancouver chefs. Inevitably, these recipes come from the same people: celebrated chefs at high-end restaurants. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s refreshing to see a compilation that brings in lesser-known chefs from noodle joints, Hong Kong–style cafés, hot pot restaurants, and other eateries that have enthusiastic followings in the city.
East Meets West: Traditional and Contemporary Asian Dishes From Acclaimed Vancouver Restaurants (Douglas & McIntyre) reflects Vancouver’s modern culinary culture better than any other cookbook out there. Food writer Stephanie Yuen has collected recipes from restaurants that specialize in Asian cuisine, including Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian food. But she also includes dishes from other restaurants, such as Cactus Club Cafe’s Korean-style barbecued pork lettuce wraps, showing how Asia’s influence permeates so much of the city’s dining.
Recipes cover everything from appetizers and dim sum to dessert and show the diversity within Asian cooking. For example, there are steamed pork-and-cabbage buns from Sun Fresh Bakery; prawns in coconut curry from Chutney Villa; and chicken à la king from iCafe, which serves Asian-meets-western food. Café D’Lite gives up its recipe for Hainanese chicken rice, Tamarind Hill Malaysian Cuisine contributes spicy Asian eggplant, and Dessert Dynasty shares its Pink Lady bubble tea. I’ve already bookmarked several dishes to try: the Taiwanese five-spice chicken nuggets from Zephyr Tea House Café, Vietnamese grilled chicken with lemongrass from Bon Café, and the fabulous Nepalese goat curry from Café Kathmandu.
As well as recipes, Yuen provides interesting commentary on how the city’s Asian restaurants have evolved from their chop suey days. She addresses how the politics of food are changing too, by including a recipe for Terracotta Modern Chinese restaurant’s No-Fin Shark Fin Soup, made with enoki mushrooms. She also moves out of the traditional enclave of Chinatown to profile the new culinary hubs of different communities: for example, Victoria Drive for its Chinese cafés, Coquitlam’s North Road as a centre for Korean food, and Fraser and Joyce streets as epicentres of Filipino food. Yuen’s restaurant recommendations are a good starting point for exploration.
Another new cookbook also addresses how the food scene in Vancouver has evolved, this time focusing on the microcosm of Granville Island. The New Granville Island Market Cookbook (Arsenal Pulp Press), by Judie Glick and Carol Jensson, is a follow-up to the 1985 original, which was coauthored by Glick. It’s full of reminiscing and focuses on the history of the market, while also including commentary on how the vibe of the island changes over the course of the year. The recipes are categorized by season, which makes sense for a market cookbook.
The book contains a mix of new and old recipes, plus updated ’80s favourites. Overall, I found them to be quite old-school. Recipes include Asian spinach salad with bean sprouts and almonds, Cheddar-and-sausage breakfast casserole, chicken satay, oven-fried Parmesan chicken, and pot roast with red wine.
In contrast, The Gardener and the Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill (Running Press) lays out new possibilities for meals based on what’s fresh and local. Authors Karen Adler and Judith Fertig direct readers to their own gardens—even if that’s just a pot of tomatoes on the balcony—as a starting point for their grills. But even if you don’t have a green thumb, there’s no reason why you couldn’t make these recipes with whatever’s in season at the farmers market.
This isn’t a vegetarian cookbook, but its garden focus makes produce the star. That’s a radical departure from most grilling bibles, which use a slab of meat as the base and everything else as an afterthought. But as the authors prove, veggies can shine on their own. “When you grill, the high heat brings the natural sugars in foods to the surface, where they caramelize. Grilling makes foods taste fuller, richer, and meatier—even without any meat,” they write. They give the example of quartered, grilled romaine lettuce, which makes a tasty side, or grilled baby bok choy basted with fresh ginger-soy sauce.
Unlike most authors of grilling books, Adler and Fertig view the grill as a behind-the-scenes tool, rather than a showpiece for cooking. For example, they suggest using it to grill-roast tomatillos and then purée them into a salsa, or to smoke corn and onions before freezing them for later use.
One chapter focuses on meat, poultry, and fish, with recipes such as grilled pork tenderloin with fresh fig skewers. In addition to veggie sides, there are appetizers, soups, and flatbreads. Some dishes feature a combination of fresh and grilled vegetables, such as the French garden radish plate with grilled onion butter. Others make veggies the star of impressive main dishes, such as the wood-grilled spring onion, Brie, and kalamata olive pizza.
Always, the emphasis is on keeping things simple. And isn’t that what summer cooking is all about?
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