The Asian Vegan Kitchen: Authentic and Appetizing Dishes,from a Continent of Rich Flavors
Vegetarians in Paradise, *A Los Angeles Vegetarian Web Magazine*
By Zel and Reuben Allen
January 2009 (Vol. 11, No. 1)
/* The Asian Vegan Kitchen:
Authentic and Appetizing Dishes
from a Continent of Rich Flavors */
* By Hema Parekh *
Kodansha International Company, 2007
From the young Indian woman who was a stranger in the kitchen to the
now accomplished cooking instructor and cookbook author, Hema Parekh
owes her extraordinary culinary achievements to her husband whose work
took him to Tokyo where a new world of food experiences introduced her
to a new world of flavors. Recalling her home in Mumbai where she lived
with her Jain family, Hema reflected on her family's vegetarian
lifestyle that featured seasonal vegetables, lentils, and other legumes,
all seasoned with a wide range of herbs and spices.
A stranger in Tokyo, she quickly found herself sparked by the exciting,
exotic, and earthy flavors of Asian dishes and noted, "The ease with
which everyone threw spices and herbs around was fascinating, and in
that attitude lay the secret. I learned that cooking delicious food is
not about getting the recipe right, it is more about getting a feel for
the ingredients and the quantities. It is the flexibility that makes
cooking a delightful and enriching experience."
As in many large cities in America, Tokyo, too, is a melting pot that
gave Hema the opportunity to meet people from China, Thailand, Vietnam,
Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Korea. Her culinary journey took her
into restaurant and home kitchens in Japan as well as in other Asian
countries where she learned the intricacies of preparing the traditional
dishes of each of these regions.
The author's desire was not to use meat-centered dishes of the nine
countries and replace them with vegetarian substitutions, but rather to
focus on the many already vegan foods that people regularly cook in
their own homes.
Each of the book's chapters centers on a different Asian country. If
you've feasted on Indian food, you may have tasted Cauliflower and
Potato with Spices, a delicious curry that features spices easily found
in Indian markets. The recipe is an exotic spice market treasure that
contains eleven different spices. While the recipe may sound daunting,
it's actually easy with Hema guiding the reader with four simple steps.
Accompanying the curry main dish are several side dishes, snacks,
breads, and beverages.
Along with studying the cuisines of each country, the author acquired
another set of skills that involved proper etiquette and how to handle
chopsticks. Readers will enjoy reading about her first challenging
Japanese encounter with slippery lacquer chopsticks and learning how to
make Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame along with salads, main dishes,
noodle dishes, rice dishes, side dishes, and desserts like Green Tea Ice
Chinese food aficionados will enjoy the Sour and Spicy Soup and the
spicy Kung Pao Tofu. These easy-to-prepare, familiar dishes are the
foundation of the book rather than recipes that focus on intricate
dishes seldom made at home.
The dishes of Thailand feature well-loved favorites like Spicy Green
Papaya Salad and Red Curry with Vegetables along with a selection of
side dishes and snacks, Throughout the book, Hema uses English recipe
titles rather than their traditional names.
This innovative cook captures not only the pungent flavors of Vietnamese
cuisine, but also the bustling pulse of the country when she describes
the floating markets of the Mekong delta in her introduction to the
chapter. Vietnamese cuisine delivers irresistible dishes with a pleasing
balance of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors, while stir-fried
dishes are prepared with a minimum of oil. A popular main dish favorite
is the Pancakes Rolled with Vegetables made with rice flour and coconut
milk and enhanced with a host of veggies embedded into the pancake.
In the introduction to each country, she reveals fascinating tidbits of
culture, color, and traditions that pave the way for a unique taste
experience. The Tomato Salad provides a delightful insight into Burmese
cuisine with its myriad colors, textures, and flavors that feature
cabbage, roasted peanuts, black sesame seeds, and pungent seasonings.
Indonesia is where many of our familiar culinary spices are grown.
Seasonings like kaffir lime leaves, tamarind juice, and chiles are part
of the cuisine that embraces dishes like Mixed Vegetable Salad with
Peanut Sauce known as Gado Gado.
Malaysia, like many of the Asian countries, enjoys a throng of activity
with street vendors selling all sorts of customary dishes prepared not
in a formal kitchen, but simply cooked to order using simple implements.
Hema offers wonderful recipes for Fragrant Lemongrass Rice, Noodles in
Spicy Coconut Soup, and Red Lentil fritters.
What sets Korean cuisine apart from other Asian foods is the liberal use
of chili peppers, finely slivered vegetables, and Kimchi that
accompanies many meals. Hema's selection of recipes captures the Korean
heart with Namul and Chorim, simply simmered vegetable dishes that are
delicately seasoned and shared at the table along with the main dishes.
The author includes four vegan varieties of Kimchi, a highly spiced
fermented pickle served at each meal. Traditionally, kimchi includes
The book is graphically attractive with sauces, relishes, and recipe
enhancements set apart in shaded boxes. Especially appealing are an
impressive 32 beautiful full-color photos of dishes from each of the
nine cuisines. The photos alone would tempt a browser to want the book
for his or her own cookbook collection. An extensive glossary explains
unfamiliar ingredients in concise but complete terms. One disadvantage
is that the book lacks a lay-flat binding, making it necessary to prop
the book open with something heavy while following a recipe.
*/The Asian Vegan Kitchen /* is a vegan cookbook gem that anyone from
any continent would be delighted to have on the kitchen shelf. Hema's
love of Asian foods is joyfully expressed within the book's
introduction, the opening orientation to each country's recipes, and
many of the headnotes that accompany the dishes. Her passion for vegan
Asian cuisine is contagious and inspiring and, no doubt, shines through
to the students in her Tokyo cooking classes. She sums it up this way,
"In my humble opinion, nothing can compare with a meal put together in
the comfort of your own kitchen, in the warmth of your home, for the
people you love."