Game-changers of cooking: Reviews of 4 new cookbooks

Reviews of four cookbooks. Time to get cooking.
Reviews of four cookbooks. Time to get cooking. PHOTO: THE STAR / ANN

(THE STAR / ANN) - From recipes that turn around a restaurant to a new way to bake and cook dinner, these books are game changers.

Here are reviews of four books.

Happy cooking!


Burma Superstar PHOTO: THE STAR / ANN

Author: Desmond Tan and Kate Leahy
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Price: S$51.50 (online price) from Books Kinokuniya Singapore

This book is more about the Burmese food found in America, and specifically, the food of Burma Superstar, a cultural ambassador and hugely popular neighbourhood restaurant in San Francisco’s “other Chinatown”.

It was not a success from day one, then the kind of place you go to for cheap and not-so-cheerful Asian food, until one of its customers, Desmond Tan, bought over the place in 2000, keeping the name along with a ghost chair in the kitchen.

It took five years for Tan and his wife Jocelyn Lee to turn it around and one became three in 2009.

In this book he shares the superstar dishes on his menu like mohinga, laphet and rainbow salad, a salad with “more than 20 ingredients”. Finding original ingredients to cook Asian food in the west is a constant issue and one learns to be creative.

You will be grateful for tips on how to fake the fermented tea leaves used for laphet, beloved salad of Myanmar. Tan shares a way to approximate it in the kitchen anywhere – it is easy but it would be a spoiler if I tell you how here. Suffice to say it is also a great way to recycle used tea leaves in the kitchen.

The good news is, here in Malaysia, all the ingredients needed to cook Myanmar food are easily available, except for the said fermented tea leaf.

If you find yourself wondering about the “sour leaf” mentioned often in the book, it is roselle leaf, which you may find in your neighbour’s garden if not your own or the night market. In Myanmar eating houses, you hardly ever start a meal without first downing a bowl of appetising sour leaf soup.

It is not the first book you should get on Myanmar cuisine, but it is a great companion book if you already have Naomi Duguid’s superb Burma: Rivers of Flavor. – Julie Wong


A New Way to Bake PHOTO: THE STAR / ANN

Author: Martha Stewart’s kitchens
Publisher: Potter
Price: S$44.95 (online price) from Books Kinokuniya Singapore

Plain ol’, highly bleached, white all-purpose flour is so yesterday. Today, brown is beautiful. And more healthful. Besides that, brown flours like whole wheat, spelt, buckwheat, millet, bran and amaranth make baked goods so much more interesting and add textural depths and taste variations.

No wonder a pantry revolution has erupted. Change is here, embrace it painlessly with this great book that shows you how in very clear, simple, and easy-to-follow ways. With this book, Martha Stewart proves she is still the diva of baking, if not the darling.

From sweet oat-walnut crisps to spiced pumpkin pie with crisp rice crust and whole-wheat stollen, you will never look at a muffin or loaf in the same way again – or crave a normal butter cake once you have bitten into one of these wholesome-toothsome remakes.

Nuts and seeds studded, whole grain and multi-grain baked goods will be the new normal.

What I love about this book is that there is not a lot of moaning and groaning about why you should make the change; you just do it. Because it is time and it is right. How not to love such simple reasoning.

I would say start reading the book from the back to learn the basics and the new ingredients you will be working with. If you want to embrace the new way to bake – and change your life – this one book will get you there. – JW


Dinner: Changing The Game PHOTO: THE STAR / ANN

Author: Melissa Clark
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Price: S$59.45 (online price) from Books Kinokuniya Singapore

New York Times journalist Melissa Clark (also a James Beard award-winning cookbook author) impresses in this exhaustive compilation of recipe choices for dinner. Clark has pulled together dishes that cover a gamut of cuisines, from fish tacos, maple roasted tofu and Japanese omelettes to curried lentils and carrot muhammara.

Although it would have been nice to have pictures of all the dishes that Clark has presented in the cookbook, this is understandably a tall order as there are just so many recipes in the book.

What is heartening is that the existing pictures in the book are beautiful and instantly drool-worthy. Each recipe is also prefaced by an introduction which includes handy tips and interesting anecdotes.

Another great feature of the book is that no matter which page you flip to, the recipes do not seem intimidating or impossible to replicate, which is great if you would like to upscale your meals without having to buy ingredients you have never heard of.

The bottom line is, if you’d like to liven up home dinners with a multitude of easy-to-execute options, this is the book you’ll want to turn to for guidance and inspiration. – Abirami Durai


The World’s Best Spicy Food PHOTO: THE STAR / ANN

Publisher: Lonely Planet
Price: S$21.83 (online price) from Books Kinokuniya Singapore

This book deftly catalogues some of the spiciest dishes from around the world in one handy, highly readable guide. If you’re a spice fiend, you will recognise some of them – from local favourites like nasi lemak and rendang to India’s famed chicken 65 and Vietnamese pho.

But there is plenty more to discover in this cute little catalogue of fiery feasts, from Guyanese pepperpot to Portuguese pia pau, Moroccan ras el hanout and Tanzanian sambaro, among others.

Each dish also comes with a recipe and a note on its origins, which will give you a clearer idea of the historical connotations (and sometimes bizarre folklore) associated with the various dishes.

All the dishes also have a chilli indicator, to give you a better idea of what is going to burn your tongue silly and what will probably just tickle your tastebuds with a hint of spice.

This is a great way to travel vicariously across the globe, sampling some of the spiciest foods available, and then replicating them at home. – AD