I want to assert mastery over my culinary domain
March 31, 2008 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I want to make easy and tasty international recipes

I've been going through a lot of the recipe and cooking related AskMes and I've noticed a dearth of threads about Asian or African recipes.

I enjoy American and Italian food, but I'd rather make Asian or African recipes. For some reason, eating spaghetti and meatballs evokes a feeling of contempt brought on by familiarity. There are a few threads about Indian, and I have bookmarked those. But, I have a thirst for more.

Problem is, I am a novice in the kitchen. I can bake and fry a few dishes, but beyond that, I'm lost. If you have any suggestions for books, sites or blogs I could visit to increase my cooking chops, it would be much appreciated.

Ideally, I'd like the recipes to be healthy, but that's not a firm requirement. I just want to make exotic food that someone besides myself might want to eat.
posted by reenum to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I might get some flack from more serious food people, but I really like Jamie Oliver's books, to start with. I know he's not really advocating stuff of any particular ethnicity, but he puts together fairly easy combinations with a little bit of an ethnic twist (often Indian or some of the other cuisines that are very popular in England) that can be both tasty and impressive at dinner parties. Moreover, he's very conscious about talking about the basics of techniques, shopping, making stocks, etc. His latest, Cook with Jamie, is specifically for helping people to learn, and it's chock full of good stuff. It all looks so good... I just really love books with a lot of bright pictures of fresh, interesting food, and his book almost makes me (a mostly-vegetarian) want to roast stuff all the time :)

I think that would be a good start, especially something that's easy to get into and can get you more familiar with flavor combinations, etc.

For Indian: Madhur Jaffrey writes good stuff and has a wide range of books with lots of pictures.

For Thai/Southeast Asian: Hot Sour Salty Sweet, by Alford/Duguid. It is by no means an everyday cookbook, but it's good for attempting stuff, and several dishes have become favorites for me. It's big on the cultural descriptions, and the difficulty comes (I think) more from making sure you procure the ingredients than from any crazy amount of time. Once you get comfortable with some of the recipes, you can easily adapt them to, say, make some of the pastes and sauces ahead of time in bulk.
posted by Madamina at 5:21 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're happy converting British measurements to US, the BBC food website has a wealth of recipes. For example, there's a series currently airing (Take on the takeaway) that challenges celebrity chefs to go to the home of Joe Public to cook a meal while they order the same meal from their favourite takeaway restaurant. Rubbish, I know but the section has step by step guides with photos that you might find useful. Elsewhere there are helpful videos, including the wonderful Madhur Jaffrey mentioned by Madamina. To find her recipes you can search by chef.
posted by ceri richard at 5:44 PM on March 31, 2008

I was raised on Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook. When I moved into my own apartment my mom got me (1) The Joy of Cooking and (2) The Complete Asian Cookbook. There is a huge diversity of dishes and they're intended for people who are unfamiliar with the cuisine.
posted by posadnitsa at 5:48 PM on March 31, 2008

If you are a novice, I would steer away from specialty cookbooks that focus on one world cuisine.

Mark Bittman. He writes "The Minimalist" for the Times, and he's right up your alley if you are a beginner. Get The Best Recipes in the World. I love cooking and it is still a favorite.
posted by rachelpapers at 5:50 PM on March 31, 2008

The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa by Marcus Samuelsson has a ton of great African recipes and not just focused on one country either. It's very user-friendly but requires some kitchen know-how.

Seconding The Joy of Cooking, lots of great stuff in there. Also, I've read many good things about Kylie Wong and her approach to Chinese cooking and you should check on Madhur Jaffrey, her Word Vegetarian and Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking might be handy.
posted by heartquake at 6:15 PM on March 31, 2008

Seconding the Mark Bittman recommendation, but adding that his cookbooks are good enough to be useful both for beginners and those who don't have a lot of time, but also are excellent and thorough references for even experienced cooks. The great thing about his simple recipes is that he leaves lots of room for improvisation (and gives some suggestions for how to improvise) but they'll also make a great meal even if you follow them to the letter.
posted by dseaton at 6:17 PM on March 31, 2008

thirding the mark bittman book. his "how to cook everything" is also a good primer for basic techniques, and has a fair amount of international recipes.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:52 PM on March 31, 2008

It's not a book, but I'd like to recommend the TV show Good Eats. Alton Brown (the host) goes over lots of different types of foods, but most importantly goes over the "how" and "why" of cooking. I find that although the recipes themselves are fairly limited, and there aren't that many, he gives a great background into the logic behind the recipes, and where they came from in the world. Find a few of his international episodes, and give em a watch. I know he has an episode on curry, with an emphasis on easy dishes.
posted by cschneid at 7:45 PM on March 31, 2008

When I'm too tired to do anything involving reading, I use this little simple stir fry recipe:

-chicken breast
-chopped veggies (fresh or frozen)
-soy sauce
-some form of stir fry sauce

Stick chopped chicken breasts in soy sauce and oil, wait until brown-ish, throw in veggies, coat in sauce, wait until yummy-looking, serve on rice and chow down.

Also, you can stir fry broccolli florettes in garlic, a bit of oil, soy sauce, and sherry, and it's delicious! (I started with a recipe for this one, but I lost it at some point so now I just throw the stuff into the frying pan :P)

The best part of these two recipes is that they're easy. I swear. I'm no Jamie Oliver, and I have never managed to screw them up entirely. It's also easy and cheap enough to increase the size of the meal, so you can make tons of leftovers! (yummy!)
posted by Planet F at 7:55 PM on March 31, 2008

Best answer: am from SE-Asia. My mom generally recommends kuali.com as an online resource for Asian recipes.
posted by aielen at 8:13 PM on March 31, 2008

Best answer: I have and love Best Ever Curry Cookbook, by Mridula Baljekar, pub. Hermes House. The recipes cover curryland from northern India on down to Indonesia and the Philippines, in which range there are considerable differences of style, with explanations of ingredients and techniques, lots of good photos of the cooking process, and recipes for side dishes. Often there are two or three recipes from a given genre, so you can see what is constant and what you can improvise.

As to developing chops: What helps me most is gradually learning how cooking works. I read from On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee, regularly—it's a fun book, with historical recipes and etymologies alongside a seriously comprehensive treatment of food—and it's awesomely helpful in making the step from knowing what I should do (what process I should undertake) to knowing what I'm doing (what result I'll get). Which is tremendously emboldening. I can go to the ethnic/import store, grab what catches my eye, and be sure that between me and Harold we can make something tasty.
posted by eritain at 9:25 PM on March 31, 2008

Response by poster: Are there any sites or blogs that deal with cooking Asian and African food. Visual step by step guides get you extra points.

Thanks for the great suggestions so far.
posted by reenum at 8:40 AM on April 1, 2008

The advanced search section of Allrecipes allows you to filter recipes by cuisine, ingredients, meals, and more. So if you like, you can search for main dishes in African cuisine and so on. No step-by-step instructions, but the recipes are usually rated with helpful commentary on what worked well or didn't in the original recipe. (I love this site).
posted by Polychrome at 9:37 AM on April 1, 2008

I think this is the second time I've suggested this, but it's just about my favourite thing ever, it's super simple to make and, like most Asian cooking, is so tasty that you'll want to cry.

A lovely dipping sauce for any Vietnamese/Thai dish is:

Very finely chopped garlic, chilli (about equal quantities)
Roughly chopped Coriander (approx 3 - 4 times the amount of garlic)

Mix all of the above with slightly warmed water with a touch of sugar and salt (or Nam Pla sauce) stirred into it.

Ideally, fire this all together around about 5 - 10 minutes before serving - and feel free to experiment with the quantities as some prefer more/less garlic

Also, from the POV of appearance, you don't want to let the coriander steep too long in the solution as it tends to discolour.

I've historically usually served this with stuff that lends itself to dipping like spring rolls, prawns, that kind of thing but it is *so* tasty that I could drink it like soup.

I promise this is the last time I post this recipe to AskMe.
posted by Jofus at 2:22 PM on April 2, 2008

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