What’s the USP? Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East, or so says the cover. So, quick and simple vegan meals that are drawn from a number of Asian cuisines.
Who wrote it? Ching-He Huang, who has been pumping out Asian-influenced takes on the cookbook zeitgeist for the last fifteen years or so. In the past this might have meant lining up with the problematic ‘clean eating’ scene, but right now it’s equals a timely and very welcome collection of vegan recipes.
Is it good bedtime reading? Not really – there are a couple of glances at the impact of Covid-19 and the importance of eating sustainably, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a cookbook without these. Huang’s recipe introductions are short, too, so there isn’t much here that lends itself to a leisurely read. But then, that’s not why this book exists. With each recipe garlanded with nutritional information and a neat infographic demonstrating preparation and cooking times, it’s clear that Huang wanted to create something that will help you make decisions (and meals) quickly and without too much labour.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? In keeping with the clean design and nutritional breakdowns, Huang’s recipes are precise without over explaining. She also makes sure to include imperial measurements alongside the metric ones, so your mum can cook along as you knock up some Teriyaki Tempeh with Long-Stem Broccoli. There’s an extensive glossary at the back and also (albeit inexplicably separated from the former) a brief but fantastic UK-to-US glossary that introduced me to the fact that Americans don’t have golden syrup. A stunning revelation.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? This is always a risk with Asian cooking. As nice as it is to see fish sauce as standard on the shelf of your local Tesco, it’s fair to say that a lot of the continent’s tastiest condiments are yet to make it there, and are often recreated rather unconvincingly as an own-brand offering when they are – here’s looking at you supermarket gochujang.
Similarly, vegan options in supermarkets have been enjoying a steady increase over the last few years. If you’d wanted to source yourself some tempeh in 2015 you’d have had to wrestle with some soybeans yourself, but head to a bigger branch nowadays and you might have some luck.
And so, yes, there are ingredients here that could cause problems to those who aren’t able to access superstores or specialist markets – Chinkiang black vinegar or seitan, for example – but most recipes are wholly accessible, and will only become more so as we seek more sustainable and (perhaps counter-intuitively) more global ways of eating.
What will I love? There’s absolutely loads of variety here. Huang’s recipes are light and full of colour. There are bold re-imaginings of iconic meat dishes in her Veggie Ants Climbing Trees or the fantastic take on the infamous Ram-don from Parasite, found here having traded in the beef for chunky tofu and mushrooms. Sweetcorn fans, in particular, will have plenty to occupy themselves with; Huang seems to have a thing for it, and I’m in no mood to complain.
There’s something for everyone, with enough fresh ideas to inject new life into a vegan diet, and plenty of dishes that will tempt those of us looking to cut back on our meat consumption. Dishes are quick to make, and the nutritional information will be incredibly welcome to carb and calorie counters alike. Oh, and there’s a plump little dessert section too, something that is all too often skipped entirely in Asian cookbooks.
What won’t I love? There’s not much to pick apart here, though it’d have been nice to get more pictures. The photography and food styling is brilliant here but too often dishes are skipped when a visual guide would have been useful. I’m curious about the Five Spice Seitan and Sweetheart Cabbage with Sweetcorn and Chilli, but having read through the recipe a few times I’m still unsure what I’m aiming for, and if it will be a big enough portion, or something better served with a portion of rice. These are small worries though. Small worries for greedy boys like me.
Killer recipes: Mama Huang’s Onion, Tomato and Enoki Soup; Chinese Sweetcorn Soup with Black Truffle; Spicy Sichuan King Trumpet Mushrooms; Sweetcorn Dad Dan Noodles, Spicy Chilli French Bean Mapo Tofu; Hawaiian Sticky Mushroom and Pineapple Fried Rice.
Should I buy it? Ching-He Huang has added a genuinely valuable title to the vegan cookbook shelf with Asian Green. It is accessible, simple and offers more variety for home cooks looking to skip the meat. Most importantly, though, it’s absolutely loaded with delicious food.
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East
£20, Kyle Books
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas