26 Apr / My New Cook Book and Recipe Inspiration
The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity: Interviews, writing articles, Tweeting, social media posts, cooking demos, selling books, etc.
What? You didn’t know I launched a new cookbook?!
Well, that is entirely my fault. My latest book “Farm to Table Asian Secrets—Vegan and Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season” came out last month and so far, the reception has been wonderful!
My new cookbook is very close to my heart for many reasons. I’ve wanted to write this cookbook for so long. As some of you know, I was a farmers’ market manager in Pacific Grove, CA eons ago. It was there and then that I truly developed an affinity for fruits and vegetables in season as well as gained deep respect for the local farmers who grew my food. The fact that I got free produce every week also helped my enthusiasm a little :).
Farm to Table Asian Secrets is also an homage to my mom. My cooking is greatly influenced by her and the culinary magic she performs in her kitchen. At the heart of this book is the way my mom–and many immigrants before and after her—cooks. Adapting and assimilating is a way of life for immigrants and it was no different for my mom when she came to this country almost 15 years ago. When she couldn’t find sweet potato leaves, she used kale or spinach instead. And there’s a word for that—resourcefulness– and it’s what immigrants do.
Like language and culture, food evolves. It’s a natural process that happens over time and over continents. My recipes in (and out of) this cookbook reflect this. I’ve adapted favorite traditional and classical Asian recipes to use fresh, seasonal vegetables I find at the farmers’ market and in my farm share boxes.
At first, I did simple things like swapping out broccoli rabe for Chinese broccoli. Then I got more adventurous and developed recipes like Kung Pao Potatoes, Korean-style Buffalo Broccoli, Vegetarian Pho, Mushu Vegetables, Eggplant “Meatball” Banh Mi, Tofu, Fennel, Spinach Wontons with Spicy Dip, and many, many more.
Don’t sound familiar? Believe me, you’d recognize the flavors. But how did I get from here to there?
I’m often asked where my inspiration comes from. While much of it comes from personal experience, other people’s recipes inspire me too, be they restaurant meals, cookbooks or TV shows.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll showcase specific recipes in Farm to Table Asian Secrets and the who/what/how behind each dish.
The first recipe I’d like to highlight is “Black Pepper and Sweet Soy Cauliflower” My inspiration for this dish came about in a very roundabout way. You might have heard of an Israeli-born British chef named Yotam Ottolenghi :). In Ottolenghi’s very first cookbook, Plenty is a recipe for “Black Pepper Tofu.” I read that his Malaysian friend introduced him to this dish. Now, Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine are very similar and I don’t remember ever having seen this dish growing up. Just like the ubiquitous “Singapore Rice Noodles” served at just about every Chinese restaurant in the U.S. but nowhere in Singapore, I couldn’t figure out where this recipe came from.
By chance, I was flipping through a Singapore cookbook and came across a recipe for “Black Pepper Crab,” a dish I craved every time we ate at a seafood restaurant in Singapore. Bam! That was it! The ingredients were too similar not to be the originating recipe.
Once I had figured this out, I began to think about a vegetable substitute that would complement the bold, spicy flavors of this dish. It had to be something a little on the bland side, and it had to hold its shape well to carry the sauce in its crevices. My answer came in the form of a bright, firm head of cauliflower.
And that, dear friends, is how my “Black Pepper and Sweet Soy Cauliflower” recipe was born.