Americans now know the flavors of ginger, soy, and scallion, everyone has a favorite stir-fry, and many their own wok. Ironically, that means “easy’’ Chinese doesn’t have much of a market among cookbooks these days. There are terrific regional explorations such as Fuchsia Dunlop’s books, and there are comprehensive technique books such as Grace Young’s wonderful “Stir-Fry to the Sky’s Edge’’ (see Page 17). But a title like “Ching’s Everyday Easy Chinese’’ makes you wonder what you can learn if you know how to stir-fry, have a great Hunan cookbook, and go out for dim sum.
The answer is: more than you think. Taiwanese-born Ching-He Huang is a London-based Cooking Channel star. Her recipes are pan-Chinese and home-oriented, though she’s not afraid of an extra step here or there. As with other TV-based cookbooks, directions can be skeletal. But with a little reading between the lines, there’s good eating here.
Pork, ginger, and duck egg congee is satisfying, traditional, and perhaps slightly scary for breakfast. The preserved duck egg (a black jelly surrounding a murky green yolk) contributes a surprisingly subtle flavor. Huang doesn’t tell you what to do if your congee starts to stick, which it will, but just add water and stir like crazy.
Huang’s little dishes are uniformly crowd-pleasing. There’s an easy-to-love vegetable spring roll recipe that goes together in a flash and will win you the world’s-most-popular-mom award if you can tolerate the deep-frying mess. If you like oshitashi, the Japanese sesame spinach dish, you will recognize its influence in yellow bean sesame spinach. This one differs only in the use of yellow bean paste, a soy product that lends an earthy note.
I have always loved the dry, pressed tofu known as “tofu gan,’’ its smooth texture shown to great advantage in a salad with cool celery and the light, rice-vinegar, sweet-sesame dressing; it’s a crisply appealing last-minute dish and a welcome balance for richer foods.
Although most of the protein dishes in this book are scaled “2-4 to share,’’ it’s easy to proportion them so that you can fashion a family meal out of a single recipe. A fast and easy choice is hoisin chicken, which is briefly marinated, roasted, and tasty in a paper-napkin, finger-licking way. Zha jiang noodles are a casual favorite, topped with meat and vegetables. Huang’s version, featuring beef, green pepper, and shiitakes, is not the stunner that claims addicts worldwide, but it makes a sustaining dinner on a cold night.
For black bean wok-fried ribs with bean sprouts and chilies, you will need either to buy the little pork riblets carried by Asian markets or have your butcher saw up some baby backs for you (“pork ribs, chopped into 1-inch pieces,’’ reads the ingredients list, which may lead you to think you can break them down at home, which you can’t). Once you procure the ribs, they make a quick and flavorful stir-fry with classic black-bean flavor.
Cantonese-style roast duck and cucumber slices with salt and pepper is almost, but not quite, as delectable as it sounds. You’re supposed to pour boiling water over the skin (how much? for how long? it doesn’t say) which in turn is supposed to crisp the skin. No such luck, although, after all, it’s duck and still delicious even with a floppy exterior.
Perhaps the happiest surprise is a nutty and gingery shrimp, asparagus, and cashew stir-fry with a dash of rice vinegar that somehow lightens and brightens the mix.
The book could be more helpful. Ingredients like bok choy or Napa cabbage are fairly easy to find. But a trip to the local Asian market for chili bean paste and black vinegar can still mean an intimidating conversation in sign language. There is a glossary, but it has no pictures or tips for substitution, and did you know you are more likely to find the yellow bean paste in the Thai section instead of the Chinese?
Also, don’t be fooled by the subtitle “More than 100 Quick and Healthy Chinese Recipes.’’ Huang is an unapologetic deep fryer, with a whole battery of recipes that call for 2 1/2 cups peanut oil, which is a pricey proposition as well as a caloric one, since the collapse of last year’s peanut crop.
That said, if your resolution this Chinese New Year is to rely just a bit less on take-out, this colorful and accessible book will go a good distance toward expanding your repertoire.T. Susan Chang can be reached at admin@tsusan chang.com.